Book Review: "From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education"

This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.

The time for improving educational success rates among racially minoritized students in higher education is now. According to the website for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2010, 45% of first-time undergraduates who completed their bachelor’s degrees within four years were white students, 21% were African American students, 32% were Hispanic students, and 2% were from other backgrounds[1]. If the disparities in these numbers does not disturb you, then reading the book, “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” will transform your thoughts.

Angela CockrellReviewed by Angela Cockrell, fund coordinator for financial aid at Sam Houston State University

The three authors of “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” have extensive backgrounds and knowledge regarding student success outcomes, educational equity, and educational research, and each possesses a high level of authority in their field. Tia Brown McNair is the vice president for diversity, equity, and student success, as well as the executive director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at American Association of Colleges and Universities. Estela Mara Bensimon is the founding director of the Center for Urban Education. She’s also a professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, where she developed the Equity Scorecard. Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux is the assistant vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and assessment and chief diversity officer at Caltech. The authors used campus-based research projects conducted at the University of Southern California (USC) and sponsored by the Center for Urban Education at USC and the Association of American Colleges and Universities as the foundation for the ideas they present in this work.

The first chapters of the book discuss how universities and institutions must have serious and difficult conversations about the correlation between successful student outcomes and student race. The authors believe higher education practitioners must use an “equity-minded” approach to examine their practices and policies to make changes that will better serve African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Native American students. The book’s tone reflects a no-nonsense, unapologetic truth about America’s history with slavery and civil rights. To clarify, “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” is not a history lesson or political propaganda. It bravely acknowledges how slavery and racism shaped the value of non-white Americans in our social, political, and education systems.

Apart from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), most postsecondary institutions were created for white Americans to acquire a higher education; by default, the framework for school policies, programs, and practices accommodate white students. Accordingly, the book addresses the definition of equity in terms of racial equity. Specifically, it explains how enslaved and other historically marginalized people were banned from higher education, thereby embedding the educational injustice that persists today.

In truth, I’m a part of this. I’m an American with Black ancestry. I wasn’t born into slavery, but my ancestors were. I wasn’t born into segregation, but my parents and grandparents were. My part began after the Civil Rights Movement, and I see the world through a different lens than most people because I was the only African American in all my high school “honors” classes. These classes were designated for students who showed academic excellence. My experience in higher education and the workplace has been slightly more diverse. But honestly, I find myself asking, “Why am I still the only African American in the room?”

In today’s environment of higher education, equity and diversity are some of the most urgent and provocative topics. Undoubtedly, there are those who argue against inclusivity and diversity, just as there were people who argued against ending slavery and segregation. To them, abolishing slavery and ending segregation was inconceivable and extreme. Comparable to the passage of Jim Crow laws and segregation, Florida and Texas banned offices for diversity, equity, and inclusion in public universities in 2023. Once again, American History has a written mile marker for the journey in overcoming racial injustice.

Achieving equity in student outcomes has many variables and components. In the book, modern research tools, practical strategies, and recommendations are effectively presented to higher education professionals to achieve and sustain higher success rates for minoritized students. Those in higher education must also look at the data objectively, which requires not leaning on stereotypes about minorities not having the capability or the motivation to perform well. In fact, by performing a self-evaluation into their actions, beliefs, and perceptions, educational leaders can determine how to correct institutional behaviors that are part of the problem.

Practitioners must also consider student performance data that is disaggregated by race to assess where discrepancies persist. The book shows how viewing completion rates by student race reveals that the success rate for non-white students is much smaller than for their white peers. “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” also recommends that universities incorporate campus action plans and high impact practices (HIPs) with trackable data to ensure that goals are met. It is important to use these plans and practices to increase access and participation from minoritized students. Financial aid administrators must advocate for consideration of family financial strength and aid policies that consider access and debt burden as schools work toward student educational success.

Central elements of the book include defining equity, analyzing data, and communicating goals. Improving educational success rates among racially minoritized students in higher education begins with these elements. Faculty, departments, and university leaders must do the work collectively, transparently, and deliberately to construct an inclusive community of citizenship and belonging where the students can embrace their value and rise to meet their potential.

Whether you are opening conversations about low rates of student outcomes for African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Native American students, or you are implementing and evaluating changes to increase them, “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk” addresses all aspects of the journey. Even if your day-to-day work is only indirectly affected by student success rates, this book will broaden your understanding of student outcome gaps in higher education. It provides modern research analyses, pedagogy concepts, and curriculum strategies that help achieve academic success for racially minoritized students. In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

"From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education" by Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux. Jossey-Bass, 2022, pp. 160. 

***

Angela Cockrell is the fund coordinator for financial aid at Sam Houston State University. She holds an associate degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in general business. Angela began her career in financial aid at the Star College of Cosmetology as a financial aid counselor and assistant general manager, followed by an administrative position in the financial aid department at Angelina College. She is dedicated to informing students about funding their higher education goals.


[1] de Brey, C., Musu, L., McFarland, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Zhang, A., Branstetter, C., and Wang, X. (2019). (2019). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2018. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

 

Publication Date: 2/29/2024


Aesha E | 2/29/2024 12:13:37 PM

Fantastic review! I am looking forward to reading this book, and it's great that it's a short one. And I 100% agree that we need to be looking at disaggregated data so we can see where the disparities are. I'm not sure if folks would be surprised if outcomes skewed lower at their local (institution) level for minoritized students or not but they couldn't ignore it at that point.

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