by Eric Wickboldt

Graphic by Susan Rahimi

Ever since the words “all men are created equal” were penned by Thomas Jefferson into the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776, equality has been a founding principal of the United States. More recently, however, a new term has emerged to rival the idea of equality shared so ubiquitously by people of the United States: equity. 

While both words sound similar, equality and equity have key differences in definition. Winston-Salem State University has effective definitions: “Equality is typically defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities,” while “equity refers to proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities.” 

While ideas of both equality and equity have remained dominant in discussions of race for decades, there has been a subtle yet significant transition over the past few years from a spotlight on equality, to a focus on equity. A compelling example of this at Las Lomas is cohort academy. Cohorts have been labeled by Las Lomas as an equity curriculum that features virtually no emphasis on equality. This begs several questions: How do students and teachers feel about this focus on equity, and what level of focus should a race-education program like cohort academy have on equity or equality? With such a strong emphasis on equity, should cohort academy be doing a better job teaching students about the difference between equity and equality? Finally, how does cohort academy teach students about equity in the first place?

In a schoolwide student survey that garnered 44 results, 11.4% of students said they did not know the difference between the terms equity and equality. There were also dissenting views on whether Las Lomas is doing an effective job of teaching this difference. In response to a question asking whether Las Lomas should be doing a better job emphasizing the difference between equity and equality, Samantha Alvarado, a Las Lomas Junior, wrote, “I think Las Lomas is doing its part in explaining the difference between the two, but there’s a far way to go.” In opposition, a Las Lomas Freshman wrote, “I really think that the teachers should teach us the difference between equity and equality, because I didn’t know the difference until about a month ago when I asked my parents.” 

Results of the same poll showed that 24 of the 44 students, or 54.6%, would prefer that Las Lomas push forward equity when it comes to training, rules, and benefits relating to race. 8 of those 24 wanted to see purely equity, while 16 of them wanted to see a mix of equity and equality that favors equity. On the other side of things, 14 of the 44 students, or 31.8%, would rather see equality employed by Las Lomas for issues relating to race. 7 of those 14 wanted a purely equality-based strategy, while the remaining 7 wanted some equity mixed in with a stronger focus on equality. 5 survey-takers, or 11.4%, wanted both equity and equality pushed forward in essentially equal amounts. Students who took different stances on the issue had varying opinions and reasoning. Alvarado, who answered that she would prefer a strong focus on equity with some equality, wrote, “Equality may seem fair, but it does not necessarily benefit everyone. This is just my understanding of equity vs. equality. I may be wrong.” In contrast,  Jacob Yousif, a Las Lomas Senior who took the opposite stance by answering that he would like to see Las Lomas push forward mostly equality-based racial practices with some equity mixed in, wrote, “I feel that the current emphasis on equity is an unsustainable viewpoint. Equality is what should be strived for, and while temporary periods of equity can be beneficial to get certain disproportionately underprivileged groups back up to speed, equity should be taught as just this and not as the end-all, be-all solution to the race problem. Equity for certain groups will, over time, become extra privilege for those groups. Equality for all groups should be the end goal, and the goal of Las Lomas’ teaching should be to teach the next generation to treat everyone equally, not to give certain groups extra privilege or higher status.”

Jason Tong, a science teacher at Las Lomas, provided some opinions and insight on the formation of cohort academy. When asked if any teachers were dissatisfied with the cohort academy curriculum or its emphasis on equity, Tong wrote, “I have honestly not come across anyone, staff, student, or parent, who has voiced dissatisfaction over the promotion of equity over equality…Having said that, I know there were concerns regarding the length of time given to discuss these important topics — There are teachers, for instance, who wish they would have had more time to dive deeper into each lesson.” In response to another question asking whether he thought Las Lomas is doing an effective enough job teaching the difference between equity and equality, Tong wrote, “I suppose the fair answer to this is that there are opportunities given to those who truly want to learn more about these topics…I feel like we have made steps in the right direction and the feedback I’ve received from my Academy Cohort regarding the racial equity lessons has generally been positive; however, do I feel like everyone at our school clearly understands the difference between “equity” and “equality” and the nuances that go with it? No.”