Back to top

Creating an Equity Cascade

by Momin Rahman, CAUT Equity Committee Co-Chair, 2017-2022

The toolkit is aimed to support associations to share efforts and inspire greater action to advance equity at universities and colleges. We need to crack the equity veneer, the rhetoric and policies, that in many ways maintain the status quo – a lack of diversity at all levels, of inclusion, of equity, and of justice.

By highlighting association tools and areas of application, we are striving to support the creation of an equity cascade - a series of actions, big and small, that create a threshold from which transformational change occurs. It is about building equity into our everyday professional and institutional practices. An equity cascade is therefore both a strategy and an outcome.

Opening doors, opening minds

Every academic discipline evolves through the challenge and incorporation of new ideas and evidence.  We encourage and depend upon an openness to new ideas, new evidence and new interpretation.  This is, in fact, a core part of the academic process of generating and mobilizing knowledge. In an institution free of systemic discrimination, the generation of new knowledge would be based on the ideal meritocracy of ideas that academia aspires to, but we must recognize that this potential cannot be fulfilled when significant social groups are systematically excluded and disadvantaged in our profession, often in invisible ways.  Without full inclusion of all, we are unable to fulfil the ideal of a meritocratic academy or truly have academic freedom as a profession.

Systemic discrimination, institutional barriers, and exploitation are both visible and invisible on campus and play a role in an individual’s academic achievements and career mobility. The myth of the academic meritocracy promotes that people advance only based on their efforts and abilities. This leads to the misunderstanding of equity work as an attempt to degrade the high standards of the academy.

Academic staff associations must work to counter the notion that equity and excellence are at odds. Innovation and the academic process of generating knowledge depend upon the intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas, evidence, and interpretation. This potential, however, cannot be fulfilled when certain groups are systematically excluded and disadvantaged in our profession.

The impact of a more equitable academic workplace will be felt by all – academic staff, students and society. Students, for example, will benefit from more diverse perspectives and role models while on campus and beyond. As postsecondary education prepares student to assess the world, think critically, and participate in civic life, modelling a positive community of equity workplace practices and discourse contributes to the legitimacy of these issues within society more broadly.

It is crucial to understand that an equity cascade benefits not just those in equity-seeking groups by transforming the structures that prevent people from reaching their potential, limit the greatness of our collective teaching, research and service work and perpetuate larger social and economic inequities within the academic workplace.