There are a lot of big conversations happening around DEI. Across the education space, millions of dollars and countless hours are being spent trying to advance equity for every student. According to a report from Newsweek, more than $20 million has been spent on DEI efforts across public schools since Spring 2020. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In March, CampusLogic hosted Shift Summit; a connection point for higher ed’s enrollment and financial aid communities to come together and solve some of the industry’s most pervasive challenges.
Among the hundreds of attendees were five individuals who participated in one of the conference’s most impactful sessions, “Leading with Justice and Equity in the Student Experience.” Their case was powerful and deviated from many other conversations in the DEI space. (And yes, we've linked the session.)
The main takeaway is that when we add justice to our work advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we do more for historically excluded students—and that advances every student.
What is justice?
There are many definitions of what justice is and what it means to the people deprived of it. This is the working definition we’re leaning into: Justice refers to a goal or vision for social change. It requires a strategy to redress histories of violence, inequality, trauma and unjust treatment of communities.
And that's because justice reflects the rippling consequences of exclusion and the mandate of equity. A people-centric term, it supports entire communities who have been marginalized and upends the stigma of being a statistic.
What happens when there is no J in JEDI?
When institutions forego justice as part of their DEI strategies, historically excluded students fall to the wayside, repeatedly. Beyond JEDI work, using human-centric language keeps our lived experiences front and center. For historically excluded and marginalized groups, this is critical.
Adding justice to the DEI conversation (and putting the definition into practice) increases student wellbeing, improves the student experience and creates a more equitable college experience, from early engagement to graduation.
Colleges considering JEDI strategies as part of their institution’s long-term planning need to lead with justice to make lasting, impactful change for the students who need it most.
Unfortunately, too many discussions around DEI forget that justice is both the overarching strategy and the outcome. And that hinders the student experience. But fixing that means weaving justice into every element of student life, which starts with student wellbeing.
Justice and student wellbeing
When discussing student wellbeing, we typically talk about five key components: psychological, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual wellness. But this definition has holes. Because wellness isn’t equitably achieved by students, and students may be “well” in some ways and not others. Most importantly, this definition doesn’t acknowledge a lack of baseline around wellness for students. There’s no equal starting point, which means we’re advancing it for some and not others when we talk about wellness.
Infusing JEDI work into the financial aid conversation
A major problem exists for historically excluded students around financial aid access and understanding: They’re locked out of the conversation and then can’t access the dollars and resources they need to enroll and complete.
Too true, more than half of Black and Hispanic alumni report that the financial aid process affected their decision to attend a specific school. This can be remedied by increased aid access and understanding, and policies at work can increase access and understanding and drive justice in financial aid.
At The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, 80% of students are first-generation and 70% are Pell dependent. Many of these students have small gaps that prevent them from attending college. Braque Talley, Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management and Student Success found an opportunity for justice. His team developed a gap funding program to cover the costs preventing students from enrolling. Now, their institution is a “destination hotspot” for valedictorians in their county.
In this case (as in many others) data and collaboration are key to buying into justice-led strategies in the financial aid department. To achieve this at other institutions, teams should build a case for change based on outcomes. Lyquaia Purcell dives into the importance of positive outcomes, which you can read about here.
Now, take this outcomes mindset and consider adding justice to the conversation through the lens of equity. This reinforces the belief that equity—rather than equality—better serves the needs of students.
That’s because equality means giving every student the same resources, regardless of their situation or need. Equity allocates resources to students with the student’s specific situation in mind. For historically excluded students, this is allocation based on justice, too.
Equity is a better lever to pull to enable justice.
And an equitable distribution of resources helps achieve a baseline of well-being for every student. And that is a critical first step in achieving justice.
But we’re not done yet: In the next blog, learn even more ways to put justice into action with real strategies discussed at Shift Summit to establish and maintain a more equitable and just well-being experience for students.