Social Equity and Equality Enhance Academic Resilience

Social Equity and Equality Enhance Academic Resilience

The Obvious and Not So Obvious

American citizens continue to experience inequities and inequalities in the education system at every level to include pre-kindergarten to post-secondary learning; however, the marginally served also continue to demonstrate their resilience to societal challenges to persist in pursuing the American dream. The core concept of the American dream was described by James Truslow Adams (1931) as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." This statement has since been redefined throughout history to include a variety of meanings depending on who is expressing the term. Within my partially immigrant family, achieving the American dream means getting an education, getting a “good” paying job and owning a home where one chooses. For someone else it may mean something entirely different such as being able to attend school wherever they want and the ability to pay for the schooling is not an issue.

The last five years have undeniably been a test of character and resilience for many people pursuing their version of the American dream as they considered shifts in the economy, political upheavals, racial divides, climate change, health care concerns (mental and physical), homelessness, technological advances or lack thereof, and an insurrection. COVID-19 revealed more than America and the world anticipated and we remain on a national healing journey. The marginalized have always been disproportionately affected by all types of disasters, inequities, inequalities and limited economic opportunities throughout American society (Cramer et al., 2018; Race Matters, 2014). We have come to understand the importance of obtaining an education; however, the value of the education has shifted.

Contemplative Reflections

Primarily in January and February of each year and years when the nation prepares to vote for new political candidates, we reflect contemplatively on where we are and how far we have sojourned as a people and as a nation. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1947) illuminated “The Purpose of Education” in a Morehouse College column while attending the college as an 18-year-old undergrad student preparing to graduate:

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”

The quest for an equitable and equal education in America is still being fought out and fought over throughout  the government, ranging from our highest courts to boards of governance and local school boards. The existing social, cultural, health and economic divides require immediate attention to address equity and equality (Cramer et al., 2018; Hughes, 2016). Questions on how we bridge gaps in learning must first be addressed in how we treat all members of our society, address issues of food insecurities, provide access to medical care, provide affordable as well as safe housing, address unemployment, reorganize issues within the justice system, eradicate issues related to systemic racism, and much more (Hughes, 2016). The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members (Ghandi, n.d.).

Difference between Social Equity and Social Equality

The ability to thrive in diverse conditions is a human characteristic noted in the survival instincts of minority groups, women and other segments of society throughout American history (Race Matters, 2014). The history of seeking social equity and equality has been long fought with immeasurable sacrifices of lives and opportunities. Too often, there is deafening silence in sharing the history and sacrifices people have made to get to where we are today as a society of learners and doers. Social equity strives to provide people with the resources they need to fit their circumstances. It requires society to know what those needs are through fair, flexible and individually based criteria (Cramer et al. 2018;, 2020). Social equality attempts to address the social concerns of insuring all people have the same rights, opportunities, and resources and is more generic and focused on groups (Cramer et al. 2018; Waterford, 2020).

A retrospective question for this generation is where would we be in academia without the Civil Rights Act, the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock Nine, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, The Fair Housing Act of 1968, and an honored list of notables who rallied communities as well as a nation to take a stand and seek equity and equality? Today is the ideal time for collective communities to come together to help secure the blessings of liberty and education as so eloquently expressed by Frederick Douglass (1894) at the dedication of a school in Manassas, Virginia:

Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness, and to defeat the very end of their being. 


We should expect difficulties as we pursue academic excellence; however, we should also resolve to accomplish our goals in insuring social equity and equality nationwide. Meaningful collaborations throughout the community and all levels of government and academia are necessary. Successes will not come overnight; however, genuine compassion will help move the marker for long-term gains. This requires effective diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives be developed and adopted throughout all of society.


Adams, J. T. (n.d.) James Truslow Adams papers, 1918 - 1949. Columbia University.

Cramer, E., Little, M. E., & McHatton, P. A. (2018). Equity, Equality, and Standardization: Expanding the Conversations. Education and Urban Society50(5), 483–501.

Douglass, F. (September 3, 1894). Blessings Of Liberty and education.

Ghandi, M. (n.d.). Quote.

Hughes, K. (2016). Encouraging Diversity in Higher Education: Supporting student success.

King, Martin Luther, Jr., The Purpose of an Education, Political and Social Views.  Morehouse College, Maroon Tiger (January – February 1947): 10.

Race Matters Institute. (2014). Racial Equality or Racial Equity? The Difference it Makes.

Waterford.Org (May 2, 2020). Why Understanding Equity versus Equality in schools help you create an inclusive school.


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