Defining Every Student’s Success: Inclusion & Equity
“Meeting students where they are” is a theme that cuts across the different working groups. There is a shared sense that we must understand each student as a unique individual in order to provide an experience that increases their potential for success.
All of the different elements of a student’s experience on campus are interrelated. A student’s socioeconomic background and their ability to pay for their education influences the way a student feels on campus, which in turn affects the student’s ability to be successful inside and outside the classroom. Put simply, success is not limited to one area of the student experience, but cuts across all areas of a student’s college life – academic, social, personal, and financial. If we understand the connections among these areas and are attentive to them in ways that respond to the particular needs of each student, then we will help them find success.
What is Inclusion?
While diversity refers to individual identities (e.g., race, religion, disability, sexual orientation), “inclusion” is responsive, referring to the actions we take to create a welcoming environment in which all community members feel safe and respected in ways that are empowering and that lead to success. The notion of inclusion compels us, and rightly so, to be holistic when we talk about difference. Yet we also recognize that at Ursinus, and nationally, issues of race are prominent and rooted in our history in ways that we continue to confront even now.
What is Equity?
When we use the term “equity,” we mean action as it refers to understanding each person’s context in order to provide access to the resources and opportunities that they need. When applied to students, being equitable means being attentive to each student’s needs and experience to “meet students where they are.”
Defining “Every Student” and “Student Success”
In the context of inclusion and equity, we define “Every Student’s Success” from two perspectives: the expectations of the institution, and the expectations of our students. Using this expectations framework raises the level of accountability on the part of the institution and allows for more agency on the part of the student.
Expectations of the institution
The success of our students depends on the success of the campus community. If our students are truly going to be successful in a diverse and interconnected world, the institution must ensure that they leave Ursinus with a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their encounters with difference. However, this understanding must first be modeled by the institution. Since we know that every student will interact with faculty and staff, it is important for these constituents to educate themselves, buy into, cultivate, and model the lessons we want students to learn about inclusion and equity. While we are helped in this work by the Open Questions and our community values, we must raise students’ awareness of the lessons we are trying to teach them and be deliberate in drawing their attention to learning moments.
Equity is inherent in the notion of “meeting students where they are” because it takes the individual into account. Taking an individualized approach means understanding the different experiences and needs that students bring to the campus and taking steps to help them overcome any challenges they may face. We need to be aware of the hidden obstacles that students face, especially those that are potentially stigmatizing, so that they do not feel invisible or disrespected, or feel that their needs are not being met. Nevertheless, students must play a role themselves, so there are corresponding expectations of them.
Expectations of our students
“Every Student’s Success” means helping students understand that they have to meet others where they are, as much as they have been met where they are at Ursinus. If students understand that we have these expectations of them, it will help them not only develop more agency and empower them to ask for what they need, but will contribute to their growth as they develop their own definition of success for themselves and for their community. This is neither a small goal nor a simple process: we are asking all students to develop deep empathy and personal insights, to be able to put aside their own needs long enough to understand and feel the situation of others. Because this is a transformative aspiration, we might not appear to reach “every” student while they are at the College, but the impact might become visible at a later period in their lives.