DEI, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

How Are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Different?

In July when I began this new position, I Googled “Diversity vs. Equity vs. Inclusion,” just to see what was out there. The top hit was a link to this article, which does a fairly decent job of explaining the differences between these three concepts. Over the last few months, I have spent time reading a host of literature around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Below I have shared my thinking about each of these terms- at least for right now…


Diversity (“Who is in the room?”)

According to diversity.com, “diversity includes everything that we are and that we are not” and “encompasses all those differences that make us unique.” As such, every one of us brings diversity to our teams, our buildings, and our district with our own culture, our race, our life experiences, and much more. In the DEI article highlighted above, Bolger defines diversity as “the presence of difference within a given setting… diversity is about a collective or a group and can only exist in relationship to others.”

New York Times columnist Anna Holmes writes, “The definition of ‘‘diversity’’ changes depending on who is doing the talking. But in reality — which is to say, when applied to actual people — … the notion of diversity feels more fraught, positioning one group (white, male Americans) as the default, and everyone else as the Other.” Similarly, in the article “There is No Diverse Book” author Chad Everett states, “Using the word diverse to describe texts also creates a default position, because one must ask diverse for whom or diverse from what? The word diverse as it is currently used centers heteronormative whiteness as the default.” Ultimately, Everett’s point is that our classrooms must contain a wide variety of materials and experiences that affirm students’ lived experiences, as well as the experiences of others.

As we think more deeply over the year about what the word ‘diversity’ means for us at AB, we need to ensure we think about all of the identities, characteristics, and life experiences that make each of us- students, families, colleagues, and selves- unique. Many of these intersectionalities are represented by the wheel below.

Johns Hopkins University

Equity (“Who is trying to get in the room but can’t?”)

Equity is a process, not a ‘thing.’ It is each of us bravely questioning whether the way we have organized our schools is helping every one of our students. Mica Pollack, author of Schooltalk, my favorite book (this week!), speaks to how we all have to do ‘equity work’, which comprises our “active efforts to develop the full human talents of every young person- and all groups of young people” (p.2). She writes, “Equity efforts seek to secure needed supports, opportunities, and resources for individuals and groups of students who typically haven’t received what they need from schools.” (pp. 12-13).

Many of us have seen the popular cartoon below, which now has many different versions, all of which minimally compare equality and equity, and others that also depict inclusion, liberation, justice, and more. I plan to devote an entire blog post (#the4thbox) to these visuals, but for now, I want to keep the focus on the term equity, so I’m using the simplified visual below (plus, I’ve never seen one with an accessibility ramp before!).

From https://www.equitytool.org/equity/

In the right-hand picture, the fence doesn’t pose a barrier for any of the spectators to observe the game, compared to the left-hand picture, where every spectator is treated the same, and therefore not all of them can even view the field. As UCLA’s Pedro Noguera shares in this interview, “The core of equity [is] understanding who your kids are and how to meet their needs.” As we delve more deeply into our Universal Design for Learning (UDL) work under our Districtwide Curriculum Accommodation Plan (DCAP), each of us will be learning how to think more intentionally about lesson design, learning materials, assessments, and instructional spaces so that every student is afforded equitable access.


Inclusion (“Does everyone in the room feel valued?”)

The Oxford Dictionary defines inclusion as “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.” In the DEI article, educator Verna Myers pushes on this traditional definition and writes, “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” I agree with Verna in that it isn’t enough to simply provide students access. We have to take it a step further and ensure that they feel valued and part of a community, whether that community is a classroom, a bus, a playing field, or a school. I also love the visual below, created by Danish professor Andrea Hinz to highlight the differences between inclusion (spelled ‘inklusion’ in Danish) and other models. She shares, “We are all alike, and we are all different. Nobody is excluded.”

Last year, my counterpart Deb Bookis and I had the privilege of spending grade-level Thursdays with K-6 educators, where we prompted them to “write about one thing that someone said or did to you to make you feel more included at a time when you felt like an outsider.” Their responses were simple: “invited me to eat lunch with them”, “popped in after school to ask how my day was”, “smiled at me”, “said hello.” As Deb and I continued this exercise throughout the year with new grade levels, the responses didn’t vary. They were simple acts of kindness that made someone feel as though they were part of a community.

Research is clear about the importance of creating a safe space for students to learn, and the biggest piece of that is ensuring that students feel and are included. In this 8/27/2019 blog post, I shared a number of ways that we can think about building a sense of community within classrooms. I was thrilled to hear directly from a few educators last week about what they tried and would love to hear from more! One of my favorites was from ABRHS teacher David Green, who had a blast with Extreme Rock-Paper-Scissors (one of the activities our districtwide leadership team engaged in this summer!) with a class of his seniors! (I made him promise to snag video of it next time so that we can see their joy!) But this need to build community extends beyond the classroom to our buses, our lunchrooms, and our offices.


As we work to articulate our District strategy and our work around diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is important that we share common understandings about these three terms and why and how they are different. As Bolger states in the DEI article, “When we can’t hold diversity, equity, and inclusion as separate concepts — and understand how they interact — we can’t set clear goals and strategies around them.”

If you have stories, pictures, videoclips, or other artifacts to share about your own work around DEI, I invite you to share them with me via email (dbentley@abschools.org) or Twitter (@DawnGBentley). I’d love to hear from you!