Framing Equity (Part One)

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June 1st, 2023

Stephen Alkins, Director of Vision and Accountability, REVISE Center

In this post, Stephen Alkins shares his thoughts about how to define and frame equity in the informal sciences community and the REVISE Center’s role in this process. This is part one in a series about discussing equity. The next blog post will be about Evaluating and Mobilizing Equity.


Trigger Warning: The introduction below includes details about racial violence and the mental trauma that results. We feel that this is important to include in our ongoing conversation and mission about what historically marginalized groups experience in an effort to create a more equitable space, especially in the Informal Science community. Please proceed with caution if these topics upset you.


“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin


I can still taste the bitter anxiety on the tip of my tongue. Life seeps from his lip and burrowed into his neck is the crushing weight of a knee and a system sworn to protect him. I can still feel the lactic acid strangling his muscles and hear the calamitous cacophony of his lungs straining like some catastrophic opera; each tragic movement composes a symphony of fear accompanied by a reduction of hope, a crescendo of horror, and a deafening silence. The endless newsfeed, an infinite loop of traumatization I dare not watch, but cannot turn away from. When I open my eyes, the only thing I see are my children. Now I must remember my own bodily functions. Brain tells Body to find the strength in my arms to embrace them, each too young to understand this hug of protection. Body asks Heart to search my Soul for words to convey an uncertain promise that it will never happen to them. How do I explain why people who look like us undergo this unequal and inequitable treatment? If I don’t know that he mattered, or that I matter, how do I reassure them that they matter?  So I utter, “When you are stopped by police…” For many families, especially Black, or from racially and ethnically underrepresented/marginalized groups in America, this experience and conversation has been summarily described as “the talk.” 

I do not reflect on this moment to retraumatize anyone who remembers the video footage of George Floyd or other occurrences of racialized violence and xenophobia we have witnessed since (anti-Asian, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-indigeneity, gender identity, ability, immigration status,  or otherwise). I do not write to tell individual folks or others with connections to those in our justice system (e.g., police, court systems, etc.) to treat everyone with compassion, empathy, and fairness. I write this moment to say: 

  1. People from historically and continuously marginalized communities carefully choose the spaces to which they subject themselves to protect their bodies, minds, and spirits. Equity is a means of survival. 
  2. While historic exclusion continues to shape systemic barriers for many, they do not define themselves by those barriers or experiences as powerless victims of oppression.  

Floyd’s death, layered with lingering global socioeconomic and racial health disparities spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly brought back our awareness and responsibility to critically analyze America’s mindset, institutional policies, and practices in sociopolitical educational landscapes. As entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte once told me, “when you’re a person of color, every moment is political.”

Addressing the need for equity in informal science education

These events serve as an opportunity for reflection and a hard reset on the education system. This includes emphasizing the foundational significance of creating and administering accessible, identity-affirming spaces that encourage critical thinking and empower learner self-agency within the informal STEM education (ISE) ecosystem. 

These past few years have asked us if equity exists at the core of all we do. Are we questioning the causes and power dynamics underlying formal and informal STEM? Are we taking the time to build trust, share power and leadership with marginalized and oppressed communities and uplift community voices as invaluable assets to not be exploited? Are we confronting bias and discrimination to improve the diversity of our teams? Are we rethinking what inclusion and accessibility from inception mean in physical and digital spaces? Are cultural institutions/organizations that conduct research truly committed to having systemic reform or are they merely performative? How are we tracking relevant metrics and ethically telling stories to assess impact?

To those already addressing these questions: continue! Conducting work that gives learners the resources to achieve their best outcomes should not be viewed as a “radical approach.” The National Science Foundation (NSF) and ISE have supported programs and produced and documented projects grounded in decolonized methodologies, broadening participation, and other lenses of equity.

“Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)” have become a normal part of the lexicon; this also includes, “access and justice.” But more education, time, space, and resources are required. This work can often feel like building a car while driving it on a road you’ve never traveled. Beyond the resistance and fatigue, how do we balance the delicate dance among ourselves addressing trauma, rebuilding and building trust, and moving forward while meeting folks where they are in this journey? Systemic transformation towards equity asks us for patience for those wanting to begin and support this journey, but to simultaneously act urgently. And we must because we see, and have seen, the disastrous generational trauma and impact inaction has on historically excluded communities. 

REVISE welcomes and holds space for these conversations. As a resource center, we listen to what the field needs and act accordingly to help develop resources that push the field’s thinking and action toward true transformation. To do this, we need to amplify current and new voices and approaches of the most marginalized and historically excluded. We will also amplify voices already committed to enacting equity and showing existing, insightful, powerful work. 

REVISE is a thought partner in establishing novel spaces that are inclusive, equitable, and co-developed communities of practice. While systemic inequity will not transform overnight, it is the collective responsibility of REVISE, NSF, and ISE to remain committed. Equity is a tool for survival and success. Equity embraces challenges. So does REVISE.

But how do you define equity? What are its dimensions and parameters, if any? How do you measure it? What does it look like when it is achieved? How does the REVISE Center frame equity as a means to guide its work?


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