Sharon Brisolara holds a masters in Human Service Administration and a PhD in Program Evaluation and Planning, with concentrations in Rural Sociology and Women’s Studies, both from Cornell University. She is an educator, writer, program evaluator, and Resilience and Equity Coach. Her monthly Op-Ed column for Shasta Scout discusses the equity challenges facing our community through a variety of lenses including poetry, research, resilience coaching, and sociology.
What is Equity?
Equity is a concept that has emerged as a way of understanding how we navigate systems and structures in a way that helps everyone.
According to Policy Link, equity is “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential." This is the way I think of equity.
Equity can also be understood by examining the results of policies and systems. When racial equity is achieved, we aren't able to predict outcomes, like level of education, poverty or income, health, on the basis of race. In a racially equitable context, race is not a significant determining factor of such outcomes; there will always be differences, but there wouldn’t be disproportionate differences.We will consider equity from different perspectives, but racial equity will be our point of departure.
To believe that equity matters is to embrace the idea that society and the individuals within it are better off when we are all valued, experience well-being and face the challenges of the future together. It is also to acknowledge that such collaboration and desired results can’t be realized by assuming we all have the same needs or resources.
While the term equity has become more common, it is not without controversy. Just this past week, President Trump’s former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wrote an Opinion piece in The Washington Post stating that the term equity was “un-American”.
Carson claims that by focusing on equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, equity “rewards and punishes people because of the color of their skin.” He suggests we should be afraid of such a focus because it could lead to large economic and social costs. Instead of focusing on results (how people are doing) he proposes that we concentrate on creating more chances for people to plug into the economic system as the most appropriate response to injustice.
Such a perspective frames social change as a zero-sum game, an approach that presupposes that there are benefits I might not be able to access if you have them, too.
An equity framing responds to this by asking us to take seriously the idea that we all deserve a good life. It recognizes that opportunities are not equally available to all and that your current circumstances, education, networks, and resources (like reliable transportation among so many others) increase or decrease your access to any given opportunity. An equity focus reminds us that, in the end, the point of being able to access better opportunities is to improve life for yourself and those you love.
The point of equity is greater well-being and prosperity for communities as a whole.
Importantly, equity-mindedness also calls our attention to the costs, for everyone, of inequitable, imbalanced systems. What potential, solutions, lives do we lose when many face unnecessary barriers to reaching their full potential? How do high rates of poverty or poor rates of health affect the entire community?
Far from being "un-American" in many ways equity is an embodiment of the promises and values laid out in the founding documents of this country: the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Equity matters even more if we, as Americans, hold these values dear.
Over the course of history, residents of these United States have enacted course corrections time and time again, out of a primary concern for the vitality of those values.
Because these rights did not initially extend to the Indigenous people of the land, to the enslaved people whose labor was essential to American expansion, or to women, these truths which were described as self-evident by those with the privilege to frame those documents could not be realized by all.
Consequently the seeds of American opportunity fell on mixed ground. Some have been able to reap a rich harvest while others have needed amendments and attention to make the soil of their opportunity fertile.
Citizens and residents of this country who embraced these ideals have organized over the course of our history through civic engagement and dialogue, through challenges to the legal system and within the public sphere, and through social movements to create change.
They have worked to define sexual assault, child abuse and the importance of freedom from both. They have expanded access to the right to vote, to marry, to own property, and own homes. They have created more opportunities and advocated for equal ability to take advantage of those opportunities. Much has been done; more work is needed.
Creating an equitable society, as the title of this column suggests, is a journey, journey that requires some preparation. No matter where we are in the journey, we will have more to learn, and un-learn, about ourselves, about the systems we navigate, and about our fellow travelers.
This column will explore questions important to those who want to understand more deeply what a more equitable society would mean for all of us. What does equity or the lack of equity look like today, here in Shasta County?
What organizations are working for racial equity in the North State? How can we, as individuals and as collectives, become more equity minded? How can we work for greater equity in complex systems like the legal system, education, and housing? What are the consequences of inequity?
In exploring these questions, we’ll draw on the wisdom of sociology, what we know about resilience, and diverse research and inquiry strategies. Through deep questioning and conversation, we will explore current challenges and success and seek greater insight about our way forward. Such clarity can help us see the small but important steps that can help us open to greater possibilities.
I am excited to begin this journey with you.