Teaching & Learning Champions 22: The Importance and Rise of Equity-Minded Teaching
March 12, 2021
Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Dr. Lydia Cdebaca-Cruz, College Associate (Student Affairs), Adjunct Instructor (English). We’re talking about the importance and rise of equity-minded teaching.
Thanks for listening to TLC @ ACC!
ACC Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: https://www.austincc.edu/offices/equity-and-inclusion
Equity Gaps Analysis (also on DEI homepage): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XEa_7R3kQZ8ogWQrJkqcHoXt7-ZUYoZh/view
ACC Office of Institutional Research and Analytics: https://www.austincc.edu/oira/
The Information Portal System (TIPS): https://www.austincc.edu/tips/
Center for Urban Education: https://cue.usc.edu/
Ascender Program: https://www.austincc.edu/students/ascender
Catch the Next: https://www.catchthenext.org/
Laura I. Rendon, Validation Theory
Tara Yosso, Community Cultural Wealth, specifically “Whose Culture Has Capital?: A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth” (2005)
Estela Mara Bensimon, Equity Scorecard/CUE, specifically Confronting Equity Issues on Campus: Implementing the Equity Scorecard in Theory and Practice (2012)
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[Matthew Evins:] Welcome to another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evins, Director of Academic Technology in the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Before I introduce a special guest, here’s an ad for you. ACC faculty, are you tired of serving as tech gurus for your students? Our new student technologies services team is here to help. Students can access support for Blackboard, Microsoft Office, Google Suite, ACC iPads and more by calling 512-223-INFO. That’s 512-223-4636. You can learn more online at austincc.edu/sts. Today I’m joined by Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz as we talk about the importance and rise of equity-minded teaching. Lydia, thank you very much for joining me today.
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Absolutely, it’s my pleasure.
[Matthew Evins:] So let’s get right into it. This is a topic that is quite new to me as well. So please, you know, enlighten me as well as the rest of our audience, what is being an equity-minded instructor?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Yeah, that’s a really great question, and I think, you know, there’s a lot of different definitions. I even have, you know, several different definitions of my own. I think that for me a lot of my working definitions come from research into equity-mindedness and equity-minded instruction from people like Estela Bensimon, but also my work with the Austin ASCENDER program that we have at ACC. And Catch the Next, which is the nonprofit that oversees the Austin ASCENDER program throughout the state. And getting to work with incredible scholars like Lauren Rendon, who talks about validation theory and getting to see, you know, a lot of the incredible equity-minded work that goes into programs like that that are designed to serve, you know, historically underserved students. And in addition, you know, my background is in Mexican American, Chicano studies or Latinx studies, as it’s sometimes known now. And so, you know, I very much, I’ve always kind of taken an approach to teaching and student success that kind of values the voice of students and values the voice of the community. And since I’ve started getting more and more involved in equity work and thinking about it from the perspective of, from, especially from a professional development perspective of kind of working with other faculty in how to develop equity-mindedness, all of that, you know, prior work that I had done in Mexican American studies and with the Puente Program and the Austin ASCENDER program, all of those experiences have really led me to a greater understanding of what it means to be an equity-minded instructor. And really to, that one of the foundational aspects of being an equity-minded instructor is seeing, faculty seeing ourselves as agents of change. And, that is, you know, kind of having this sense of being empowered to make changes, however small, in our teaching, in our understanding of students, in our approaches to curriculum development. That recognizing that those small changes can have an impact on narrowing equity gaps. And what that means, you know, seeing ourselves as agents of change, means, you know, not kind of giving over that power to say like, oh, well, you know, it’s the fault of communities. Or it’s the fault of high schools. Or it’s the fault of some other, you know, some other area of the department of the college. Or, you know, that there’s, you know, there are all of these things out of my control. And instead an equity-minded mindset would say, okay, yes, there are all of these things out of my control, but what do, what can I, what changes can I make; right? What do I have control over? And so part of that is mindset work; right? And so a lot of that to me comes from really shifting understandings of the communities that we serve, the students that we serve from deficit understandings, right, focusing on the lack that students have, which we see even in phrases like, you know, not-college ready. And instead reframing it to really kind of interrogate our own practices and our own spaces, virtual or physical; right? The kind of spaces that we create in our classroom to ask are our classrooms student ready; right? Are our classroom spaces and our campuses or our colleges ready for the students who are coming to us? And so shifting that understanding from a deficit perspective to an equity-minded perspective comes largely from, you know, shifting to an asset-based understanding of community’s cultural wealth. This is something that is building on Laura Rendon and validation theory as well as Tara Yosso in her kind of studies and theory on community cultural wealth and a lot of folks that have built on that work. But what Tara Yosso says is that, you know, students bring social capital, linguistic capital, aspirational capital, probably one of their strongest assets. You know, very fact of being in our classrooms when often times they have been faced with challenges throughout their education, the very fact of applying and, you know, registering for classes and showing up for class really speaks to the aspirational capital that students bring to our spaces. Navigational capital, being able to navigate, you know, various bureaucracies, services and things like that. But even for first-generation college students the college bureaucracy may be new, but a lot of times, if you, you know, if you kind of show students the many ways that they have navigated various similar systems and structures before, it can kind of help to take some that burden off. Incredible familial capital, our students bring such strong family ties that really strengthen the work that they do in their classrooms, if we kind of show them that and show the class that and work to build on that in our curriculum. And then also, of course, resistance capital, you know. I mean, this is another part of equity-mindedness is being race conscious, is being class conscious and in making ourselves aware of the various inequities in our communities, right, social inequities in our communities locally, but also nationally and even internationally. And, you know, acknowledging the ways in which historically higher education has marginalized particular groups and particular communities. And many, many of our students, a growing majority of our students come from those communities. And so we have to really ask ourselves, you know, how much, to what extent are our institutions, you know, from the campus level, of the district level, campus level, all the way down to the classroom level, to what extent do we continue to perpetuate that marginalization, you know, in our adherence to tradition? And, you know, how, overcoming that adherence to tradition is probably the biggest challenge. But I know that we have so many innovative people, including innovative students, you know, who form, who are members of the college, who are members of our classroom spaces and who, you know, at all levels of the college. And so I think that a big part of equity mindedness is really kind of like embracing and affirming that innovation. And also being willing to question the structures that have allowed us to be successful, but that might not necessarily be a pathway, a strong pathway to success for the students that we have.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s a great explanation. And certainly based on what you’re saying, sounds incredibly important for the overall success of our students at ACC. In thinking about the, sort of the history, I guess, if you will, of teaching in higher education, this certainly sounds different from what instructors in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s, even 2010s had been used to and have been doing. So to introduce something like this that seems very different, can you explain a little bit about why it’s important to be an equity-minded instructor?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Yeah, that’s a great question too. One of the things that I’ve learned from Estela Bensimon’s work is, in particular is the difference between deficit, which I talked about a little bit already; right? Deficit mindsets, diversity mindsets and equity mindsets. So deficit mindset sees, you know, gaps in knowledge, lack in knowledge or experience or motivation or things like that, or resources. A diversity perspective kind of says, like, oh, we need to get more diversity into our curricula. We need to be more multicultural. And you saw this a lot in the culture wars of the 90s and early 2000s; right? Like revising or rethinking curricula and canons. You know, like what constitutes a discipline’s canon and things like that? And kind of inviting more multicultural voices and things like that. What we have seen is that diversifying the canon or bringing more cultural responsiveness when cultural responsiveness means simply inviting in students’ home cultures into the classroom as a way to mainstream those students; right? Instead, and so, like the difference between that perspective, that kind of multicultural, like diversifying the curriculum perspective. And an equity perspective is that diversifying the curriculum kind of says like, okay, we’ll bring in students home histories, home languages, home cultures into our curriculum. The end result that we want is still for students to form part of this, you know, kind of single mainstream culture; right? Or kind of like understanding of what a successful graduate of a particular program looks like and acts like. It’s still cultured in many ways, but it’s part of an a mainstream culture. And so it’s kind of asking students to trade in their home cultures for this mainstream culture. And basically kind of saying like, education as, you know, education as your ticket to social mobility means you have to exchange your home culture for this mainstream culture, even though we’re going to bring in, you know, the voices of your culture and things like that. Well, an equity mindset kind of flips that on its head. An equity mindset basically says, why are, or interrogates. Why are these particular disciplinary skills or these particular disciplinary concepts or these particular disciplinary habits of mine, why are they so important? You know, like why does a graduate of our program need to have these particular skills? And then connecting those back to, you know, the kind of historical exclusions and marginalization of other voices and, you know, communities, home cultures and things like that. So I don’t know if that answers your question. But, you know, I mean, the other piece to it is that, like, you know, as this diversity work, right, not to the inclusion and equity side yet necessarily, but as this kind of, you know, multicultural movement was emerging, as you’re saying in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s. You know, it took hold in a lot of places. And, you know, we saw a rise in culturally responsive teaching and cultural relevance and things like that, you know, rethinking and diversifying canons and disciplines in a lot of really important ways. And at the same time we still see these very persistent equity gaps that tend to be, you know, among the same students or students from the same communities. And so, you know, so the question about, you know, why do something different, in part is that the previous option was a good option; right? It was a great innovation. It was what, it was something that needed to happen. But it didn’t really move the needle as far as we thought it would.
[Matthew Evins:] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. This is certainly a lot to take on, to absorb as an instructor. And quite, you know, as you’ve explained, quite the change in mindset. Where is ACC as an institution in supporting and the development of equity-minded instruction as a whole?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] I think that ACC has made some great inroads, honestly. You know, I’m really excited about the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office’s current efforts getting buy-in from people at all levels of the institution working on equity projects. You know, Larry Davis has done a great job with that. Khayree Williams have done an excellent job with that. For me, I was really excited to see a lot of work in culturally responsive teaching and kind of getting toward equity mindsets and things like that in the Teaching and Learning Academy that TLED hosts. And I’ve noticed a lot more offerings lately from TLED in kind of antiracist thinking or like discovering your blind spots workshops and things like that. And now there’s an equity fellowship track, which is amazing. I also recently have started offering becoming an equity-minded instructor and serving men of color students faculty development workshop. And it’s been incredible. So I really hope it’s, every offering so far has just been so eye-opening. It’s been, we’ve been able to connect people from across, connect faculty from across all different areas of the department. And me being able to facilitate this has been really incredibly transformational. And I know that, you know, feedback that we’ve gotten from some of the participants has been that it’s been transformational for them too. So, and in that course, you know, a lot of what we’re doing is introducing some of these concepts, introducing some of this terminology about, you know, deficit, diversity and equity. The difference between equity and equality. Double-loop thinking, which is an organizational learning process that invites you to think, not about, invites you to think about what you can change instead of what you can’t change. And so, you know, we’re doing a lot of this work, I think the college is doing, is really kind of exerting a great effort to ensure that we close equity gaps. Another thing that the college has done that is hugely important is to begin to look at the data to see where the equity gaps actually are. And the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has recently released, or, excuse me, in concert with, in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research and Analytics has recently produced, published an equity gaps analysis that’s available on the website. It’s, I think, imperative reading for everybody at the college. And what that analysis shows is that we still definitely have some work to do. You know, I think that one of the things that would be beneficial is if we had kind of, and I don’t know there’s the equity task force work. And so perhaps this was is going on already. I’m not involved in the equity task force work, so hopefully this is going on already. But, you know, one of the things that the college did really effectively with guided pathways was kind of bring together voices from, you know, students affairs side of the house and academics and workforce. I know that with the academic master plan some of this is going on as well. But I think, you know, having very focused and intentional discussions around those equity gaps that were published in that report and bringing together people from across the institution would be hugely beneficial. Because one of the things that I saw in that report is that, you know, that maybe there are disconnects between some of the different sides of the house. You know, and maybe some of the work is siloed. But just to give you an example, one of the equity gaps in that report was that students of color, black and Latinx students in particular, are over-represented in certificate granting programs and programs that are, end up in lower-wage jobs. And they’re underrepresented in transfer programs. So to me that bespeaks, you know, a need for a conversation between advising and perhaps counseling and, you know, academic and workforce. Like, get everybody into the same room and talk about, you know, where are these equity gaps coming from? You know, are they guided by particular narratives? Are they guided by student decisions? You know, how can we change this? How can we make sure that we get more students of color, and particularly men of color, in transfer-oriented programs so that we can improve the economy of our communities? Another aspect that has come up in the becoming an equity-minded instructor class is, because that class is specifically focused on serving men of color students. And it’s a project that emerged out of ACC’s relationship with Project Males. And, which is housed at the University of Texas at Austin. And, you know, a lot of times, when we’re in that course, when we’re reflecting on, you know, how we serve men of color students, particularly black men, a lot of times it comes up that, you know, faculty see very few black men in their courses. Why is that, you know? Like, do we ask this question as an institution about why black men in particular are so underrepresented in our programs? And especially programs that, you know, could lead to higher wages? So these are hard conversations to have, but they’re absolutely necessary if we really do want to make change.
[Matthew Evins:] For those instructors who are listening to this for the first time and are hearing about equity-minded instruction really for the first time, this can seem like sort of a daunting task to flip our entire mindset for the way that we teach and the way that we interact with students. What are some ways that instructors can revise their assignments or course activities or some small steps that instructors can make to start to bridge that gap to become more equity-minded?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, because it is a mindset shift, it’s hard to talk about kind of like tips and tricks, you know, that can make you more equity-minded. Like, what we talk about in becoming an equity-minded instructor course is that it’s a journey, you know. It’s a journey that I’m still on certainly. Like, I don’t purport to be any kind of expert on equity mindedness, but I mostly talk about, you know, obviously like synthesizing research and talking about what I do. And I still have equity gaps, you know, in my success rates in my courses as well. So that said, I think that some steps that can be taken, so let me just back up to say that, you know, with the journey toward equity mindedness, I it think starts with a lot of reflection, honestly, on our own academic journeys and how we got to where we are. Like, what enabled us to be successful? But also recognizing that what in, what enabled us to be successful in terms of our learning style and how we responded to specific kinds of teaching isn’t going to work for everybody. And so one of the first things that I would recommend is to see, look at your data. See if you can look, you know, get your success data, ideally disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender. And, first of all, identify where your equity gaps actually are, you know. What students are being best served by your teaching? And what students are struggling a little bit more? Once you have that, once you’re empowered with that with that knowledge, then you can better start to tailor or, not tailor or customize, but can better start to rethink your assignments and curriculum and things like that. All of that said, so much of equity mindedness comes down to building trust and building rapport and demonstrating authentic caring for students. So, you know, a lot of times I think that, when we, you know, when we show students that, like, we care about their writing, we care about their success, I focus on writing because I teach writing. But, you know, we care about them turning in assignments. We care about them showing up to class and things like that. But, and so, you know, we care, we demonstrate care for those kinds of things because we know that those are the things that helped us to be successful. But if we do that, you know, that level of care without also demonstrating authentic care for their home cultures, for their lives, for their experiences, for their goals, then students are savvy, you know. They’re going to know that there’s this kind of like superficial level of caring, and then there’s a deeper kind of more authentic caring. So what are some ways that we could do that? Building rapport with students early in the semester. Getting to know their goals and then looking at your curriculum and being transparent with students about the ways, the specific ways in which your course is going to help them meet their goals. So, you know, looking at your student learning outcomes, looking at your assignments and directly and explicitly tying them back to students’ stated educational and career goals. That’s one thing. Kind of taking a mentoring approach to students as a class, like mentoring the class as a whole. Paying attention to, you know, make sure that you offer opportunities to student, not just to the top performing students, but to students, you know, who may be kind of average or on the edge of passing. What else? Let me see. Also, oh, we know collaborative learning is a high-impact practice that helps to meet the needs of students that come from more collectivist cultures. And so building in time for collaborative learning and for communication. So building literacy skills regardless of the course, especially writing. In math classes, building in times for either spoken or written communication of how a problem is solved, for instance. But, you know, kind of really the way I think about it is like, instead of treating students as students, you know, who are supposed to kind of like receive or, you know, maybe passively, more or less passively receive knowledge and content from our courses. Instead seeing, viewing students as apprentices in your discipline. And this is something that like nursing programs do really well and a lot of career and technical education programs do really well. And this is something that we need to continually work on, on the academic side for sure. But, so like for me, you know, seeing a student as an apprentice writer or seeing a student as an apprentice historian or seeing a student as an apprentice, you know, journalist or, you know, public speaker. Instead of seeing them as students, you know, without skills; right? So how can we kind of take more like a guild or an apprenticeship approach to our classrooms instead kind of like the lecturer, you know, kind of the lecturer versus the, you know, recipient of content kind of model? Those are a few things. I think also on the assessment side, you know, being very clear and transparent about how your assignments relate to student learning outcomes as well as inviting students to contribute to a kind of collective or community understanding, classroom understanding of what the outcomes of a course should be. You know, what they, what their expectations are to get out of it and kind of compare and contrasting those to your expectations. And kind of just having a conversation about the expectations of the class and what they’re going to get out of it. And then also taking that next step of connecting that back to, okay, how is this going to help you on your pathway through your educational journey? How is this going to help you to transfer to a university? How is this going to help you in your job? How is this going to help you be career ready? And just, as often as possible, just being explicit about those connections and making, that’s how we make our courses relevant to students. And when we make our courses relevant to students, we have less or fewer issues with, you know, like motivation and things like that. And some of those things that can be so demoralizing sometimes about teaching and especially if we don’t see those, you know, achievement gaps or equity gaps shrinking. So I know it’s kind of a lot and kind of all over the place, but I guess just to take half that off, I would say that I think that the early work is kind of reflection work in thinking about our social identities and our social positions and our teaching identities and our, you know, our roles as teachers, as facilitators and how we attend to those learning styles that may be different from our own.
[Matthew Evins:] That’s certainly a lot to work with for those that are new to equity-minded instructions. So thank you very much for those tips, if you will, or places to get started. Speaking of places to get started, if there’s instructors who are new to equity-minded instruction and who want to learn more, where do, where should they go? Where can they get resources or more information about what it means to be an equity-minded instructor, especially as it relates to ACC?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Well, shameless self-promotion. You can take my faculty development class, becoming an equity-minded instructor and serving men of color students. There’s also, I also would recommend looking on the TLED website for some of the equity fellowship offerings or some of the kind of equity line of offerings, including the discover your blind spots workshop. There’s follow-up one to it now. There’s so many, there’s so much research on the topic. For me, starting with, I’ll just throw out a few names, looking at Laura Rendon, R-e-n-d-o-n, and her work on validation theory would be a good place to get started. And then also I mentioned before Tara Yosso, Y-o-s-s-o, her work on community cultural wealth. And then also the work of Estela Bensimon. And trying to think what is, I think it is, trying to look up the name of her center in California. Here we go, the CUE, Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. So the Center for Urban Education, or they go by CUE, they have tons of resources, including some great ideas for getting started on double-loop learning also data analysis and disaggregating data and things like that. Also the Office of Institutional Research and Analytics at ACC is a great place to, you can, for tips access. You can request your student success data disaggregated gated by race, ethnicity and gender if you’d like. And, you know, we also kind of do some work around, in the course, in the becoming an equity-minded instructor course. We also do some work around data analysis and kind of how to make sense of that kind of success data and stuff like that. So I think those are some starting points. So definitely TLED. You know, looking, talking to maybe your department chair or your supervisor about the possibility of getting tips access through the OIRA, the Office of Institutional Research and Analytics. And then, you know, maybe the CUE, the Center for Urban Education at USC with Estela Bensimon. I think those would be some good starting points. And then, you know, we hope to, we are full, the becoming an equity-minded instructor course filled up pretty quickly this summer. But with the direction that it’s taking and the overwhelming demand for the course, I have a sense that the offerings will be growing and continuing as we move forward. So definitely keep an eye out for that as well.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. And we’ll have a lot of the names and links that you’ve provided or that you’ve mentioned on the blog post when this gets published as well. So if anybody wasn’t able to catch how to spell somebody’s name or what the various centers are, we’ll have that list on the blog post as well. There’s one actually, one link that you didn’t mention that I do want to make sure our listeners know exists. And that’s austincc.edu/equityfocused, which has a lot of the resources you’ve already mentioned, but sort of aggregated all into one place.
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Awesome.
[Matthew Evins:] So all of the ACC-specific things, you can find at austincc.edu/equityfocused. Lydia, that really concludes the, you know, all the questions that I had, at least, prepared for today. It certainly spurs a lot more questions. But, unfortunately, we don’t have time for, to dig into my own personal curiosities. But before I let you go, one thing that I do ask all of our interview, all of our podcast guests, is there anything giving you Riverbat pride this week? I know it’s only Tuesday, so, you know, not a lot has necessarily happened. But is there anything specifically that you’re grateful for within the ACC community? Or anything giving you pride?
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] That’s a great question. You know, especially since we just came out of this big winter storm that knocked a lot of people out, students, faculty, staff, everybody, kind of got people out the loop and a little bit behind. One of the things that has been so just, that I’ve been so grateful for since we came back, which the last week I just met with my class one time. And so I’m counting the end of last week as this week too. It’s just the incredible resilience of the students. And many of them saw, many of my students, at least, even though some definitely, you know, have been continually struggling with, you know, power, Internet access, water and things like that. Many expressed over, we have a group chat in one of my classes, expressed, you know, like, oh, gosh, we’ll be so, we’re so grateful to come back to class to be normal again. And just that idea of, and I was kind of like, wait, we’re still in a pandemic. We’re still not normal, you know. But just this sense of that like being in class, even though it’s over Zoom, but, you know, kind of seeing all the, seeing each other’s spaces and getting to, you know, share the experience of constructing knowledge together and making meaning of this situation, making meaning of our worlds together has been incredible. And the fact that they’re so ready and eager even to see, really just to see their class, their ACC classes as a site of safety, as a site of normalcy, it really warmed my heart so.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, that’s certainly something to be prideful for this week. So, Lydia, thank you very much for your time today. It’s been a lot of great information, very eye-opening for me since I, you know, as a staff member, we don’t really hear a whole lot about the equity-minded instruction. So everything that you’ve talked about today was very interesting and very new to me. So I certainly, at least on a personal note, definitely appreciate your time today.
[Lydia CedeBaca-Cruz:] Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
[Matthew Evins:] Great. Well, that wraps up another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. Don’t forget you can read episode transcripts on the TLED blog and find links to any resources we referenced during the show. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC district podcasts and any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TLED website. You can learn more about the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division and keep up with everything relevant to the faculty experience at ACC by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. Simply text ACCTLED in all caps to 22828 to subscribe. And, of course, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @acctled. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll chat next time on TLC@ACC.
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