Equity-Minded Language

Building common language allows us to speak more clearly and effectively, thereby creating a shared sense of identity and culture – leading to more inclusive and efficient campus environments. Being equity-minded means focusing our perspectives and thoughts to call attention to patterns of inequity, and requires practitioners to be race-conscious.

To be equity-minded, individuals must understand how institutional practices and policies have perpetuated the disparities reflected in their student outcomes. Equity efforts, while they may be well-intentioned, often fail to fully embrace and recognize the power of whiteness in historical power structures and its impact on institutional racism. This understanding, however, is crucial to developing holistic solutions aimed at achieving racial parity in student outcomes.


Equity-mindedness refers to “the mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who are willing to assess their own racialized assumptions, to acknowledge their lack of knowledge in the history of race and racism, to take responsibility for the success of historically underserved and underrepresented student groups, and to critically assess racialization in their own practices as educators and/or administrators” (McNair et al, 2020). Having an awareness of how underrepresented groups have been historically, and often deliberately excluded from educational opportunities is a critical component to becoming equity-minded. This inequality has often been hidden through the use of language. Taking the time to ensure your team (at a minimum) has a common understanding of equity and race-related definitions will maximize effectiveness and ensure you don’t unintentionally erase the differences between various racial groups.

Reframing Language: Deficit-Minded vs Equity-Minded

How we use language and in what ways we discuss data can have a profound impact on framing our understanding of equity gaps and in what ways equity gaps may emerge. A common pitfall is the utilization of deficit-minded language, especially when referring to students. Deficit thinking or deficit-minded language often places the responsibility for “deficits” on the group in question.

A common example of deficit-minded language often used in higher education is the examination of “achievement gaps.” By characterizing disparities as “achievement gaps,” it places the onus on the students (typically from marginalized groups) by implying they are somehow failing to “achieve” (McNair et al, 2020). An equity-minded approach to the same data would characterize the disparities as “equity gaps”, thereby placing the onus on correcting the disparities on the college or university. A central tenet of Equity by Design is engaging students in the work, which goes beyond mere engagement and instead understands that students are assets to the work and their experience on campus. Informed by Yosso’s (2005) Model of Cultural Wealth, we remind ourselves that Minnesota State students:

  • Possess cultural knowledge nurtured by family and community.
  • Have the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for their future, despite perceived barriers.
  • Have bicultural/multicultural skills attained through communication and experiences in more than one language or style.
  • Hold networks of people and community resources.
  • Have developed skills for maneuvering social institutions.