Have you ever made a professional decision and later realized it had negative unintended consequences for others on campus, be it your students or colleagues? Have you ever observed a decision being made that excluded voices that should have been involved? Have you ever been unsure of how to effectively raise concerns about a decision being made that would lead to inequitable outcomes?
Because we have each been socialized in a world in which we acquire biases and prejudices, educators must work actively against these limitations and make an intentional choice on a daily basis to unlearn historical messages (Latino, 2015). Our academic disciplinary norms and practices are also deeply rooted in racism, colonization, and oppression (Brooks, Dwyer, & Rodriguez, 2022; Dickens et al., 2020; Shanklin, 2000; Silius, 2020; Trisos, Auerbach, & Madhusudan, 2021) and create barriers to equity. Further, because college experiences and access to a degree are inequitable among students (Brooks, Dwyer, & Rodriguez, 2022), and our ultimate goal is success for all students, considerations of equity should be foundational to our work. We need to ensure that our habits of mind, courses, policies, and everyday practices don’t promote exclusion and perpetuate inequitable outcomes.
As educators, we must take shared ownership and responsibility for advancing inclusion and equity at our institutions; creating environments in which everyone feels welcomed, affirmed, and valued; and dismantling barriers to success. Some educators might be more inclined toward equity work, possibly because they have already reflected on their own positionality and systemic privilege/oppression. For others, the principles of equity will require new habits of mind. Equity is about corrective justice. Viewing people, especially students, who are part of the campus community holistically and understanding the inequities they experience is an important first step towards equity; in order to have equitable outcomes, we must be intentional about putting equity-minded practice into action. Scholar and author Estella Bensimon (2018) talks about inequities as a problem of practice so changing practice, like our decision making processes, are a necessity.
If we’re truly committed to equity for all people across campus, then we can’t ignore our decision-making processes, whether that be decisions about a policy, about who gets hired, or about certain pedagogical practices we do and do not utilize. We’d like to offer a few examples. Let’s say you are on a senate committee tasked with updating the due process policy. Decisions about who (e.g., positionality) serves on the grievance hearing committee have implications for equity. Or let’s say you are on a search committee for a new tenure-track faculty member. A decision to include a search advocate on the committee has implications for equity. And lastly, let’s say your students bombed the midterm exam and clearly did not understand the concepts in the ways you had hoped. Your decision about what to do next in your course has implications for equity. Your decisions matter and can, if you choose, move your institution forward towards being more inclusive and equitable.
Making decisions with a systemic lens is necessary in order to become more equity-minded as educators. We must recognize the historical context of exclusionary practice in higher education and the impact of that history on the practices, policies, and systems of today. Educators have to take a hard look at the ways in which our work currently mirrors, rather than remedies, inequity, given our institutions’ historical legacy of exclusion. Utilizing a systematic framework for equitable decision making helps us mitigate the impact of both personal and institutional biases. As equity-mindedness becomes a habitual part of our decision-making behavior, we can make sustainable change towards more inclusive and equitable learning and working environments on campus (Latino, 2015). The more intentional we are with our decision-making processes in ways that seek equitable outcomes, the greater the impact our work will have in helping all students succeed and thrive.
How can you make decisions that are more equitable? The VIBE framework provides questions you should ask throughout the decision making process in order to consider issues of equity. The VIBE acronym stands for views, inclusion, benefits and burdens, and equity. This framework can be used for small, individual decisions (e.g., should I allow students to drop a quiz?), large, group decisions (e.g., will our overhaul of the curriculum meet all students’ needs?), and collective, institutional decisions (e.g., should the university keep its testing optional admissions policy that was instituted at the start of the pandemic?). Consider a decision you have made recently, or are in the process of making, and reflect upon the questions from the VIBE framework that follow:
- Whose view is centered?
- Whose view is not being considered?
- Whose voice has been included thus far? Whose should be?
- Who should be consulted in order to understand the implications of this decision?
- Are those potentially impacted the most by this decision involved in the decision making in some way?
- Have I taken the necessary time to hear and thoughtfully consider their STATED (not assumed) needs?
Benefits and burdens
- Who will benefit most from this decision?
- Are those with dominant identities the primary beneficiaries of this decision?
- How will this land differently on people with different positionalities?
- Who will carry the burden of this decision (e.g., time, labor, stress, etc.)?
- Will those who are marginalized carry more of it?
- What harm might be done by this decision?
- Do I have a specific plan to address or mitigate potential harm?
- Will this decision ultimately lead to a more equitable environment?
- Will this decision create or exacerbate any inequities that will need to be addressed later?
- Am I using my power to enact change that will benefit those with less power?
Calling in for more equitable decision making
While it is crucial that educators make equitable decisions about those things that are within our power to control, there are many decisions that are made at a higher level than your average faculty member. In these situations, it is our responsibility to call in decision makers in order to hold them accountable for making equitable decisions. We must speak up at all stages of the decision-making process if we want equity to become woven into the cultural fabric of the university.
A few brief examples can illustrate some of the ways VIBE can be used to call others in at different stages in the decision making process. Before crucial decision points are encountered, we can speak with administrators and colleagues about the VIBE framework and the importance of systematic tools for making equitable decisions. As committees are being formed, we can raise questions about the make-up of those committees—about whose views and voices need to be included. Throughout the process, we can ask questions about who is poised to receive the benefits and bear the burdens of potential decisions, and whether any possible decisions will create new inequalities that will need to be addressed later. And after decisions are finalized, the VIBE framework can help us be specific as we identify and name any concerns we may have about the process or outcome, which hopefully will lead to more equitable decisions in the future.
Whether you have the power to make decisions or have influence on decisions being made, more must be done to center equity in the decision making process. Individual and institutional biases will continue to cause inequitable outcomes if we do not act with intention. The VIBE framework provides all educators with a systematic approach for mitigating these biases and an opportunity to lead the work of transforming our universities.
Dr. Tasha Souza will be the incoming vice provost for Faculty Success at Sacramento State; she recently left her position as the director of BUILD (Boise State Uniting for Inclusion and Leadership in Diversity) and professor of communication at Boise State University. Previously, she was the associate director of Inclusive Excellence for BSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, faculty associate for Inclusive Teaching for Humboldt State University, and a Fulbright scholar at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. She is a consultant on communication, inclusion, and pedagogy and has published in such areas as difficult dialogues in the classroom, addressing microaggressions with microresistance, communication climate, and intercultural conflict.
Jeremy Harper is a queer, multiracial Black educator, community organizer, and game designer. They currently work as the instructional consultant for Inclusive Teaching in Boise State University’s BUILD program. Harper has facilitated workshops and trainings on a range of topics including Inclusive Teaching Practices, Dating Violence, LGBTQIA+ Identities, Multiracial Identities, and Conflict Mediation. Harper is passionate about building safe, inclusive communities where every member has the support they need to be successful.
Bensimon, E.M. (2018). Reclaiming Racial Justice in Equity. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Vol 50 (3), 95-98.
Bensimon, E. M., & Malcom-Piqueux, L. E. (2012). Confronting equity issues on campus: Implementing the equity scorecard in theory and practice. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Pub.
Brooks, J., Dwyer, H. & Rodriguez, M. (2022). A call to interrogate educational development for racism and colonization. Online article in Faculty Focus. Madison, WI: Magna Publications.
Dickens, D., Jones, & M., Hall, N. (2020). Being a Token Black Female Faculty Member in Physics: Exploring Research on Gendered Racism, Identity Shifting as a Coping Strategy, and Inclusivity in Physics. The Physics Teacher, 58(5), 335-337.
Latino, N. (2015). Leadership at the intersection: A developmental framework for inclusive leaders. In B. Barnett & P. Felten (Eds.) Intersectionality in Action: A Guide for Faculty and Campus Leaders for Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Institutions. (pp. 25-35). Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA.
Shanklin, E. (2000). Representations of Race and Racism in American Anthropology. Current Anthropology, 41(1), 99-103.
Silius, V. (2020). Diversifying Academic Philosophy: The Post-Comparative Turn and Transculturalism. Asian Studies, 8(2), 257-280.
Souza, T.J. & Harper, J.J. (2021). VIBE: Questions to ask in decision making for equitable outcomes. [Unpublished manuscript].
Trisos, C.H., Auerbach, J. & Madhusudan, K. (2021). Decoloniality and Anti-Oppressive Practices for a More Ethical Ecology. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 5(9), 1205-1212.