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What is Equity-Minded Teaching?

Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux (2020) define a practice of equity in the context of higher education as actions and mindsets that emphasize successful outcomes and experiences for students who have been historically excluded from and are currently marginalized in our institutions. While a diversity lens focuses on bringing more marginalized students into an institution or field of study, an equity lens focuses on transforming institutional barriers that get in the way of student persistence and success. With this in mind, instead of focusing on whether students are prepared for success in college, we can ask whether and how our institution, curricula, and courses are prepared to teach and serve marginalized students. Equity-minded educators ensure that this mindset is “evident in their actions”; these actions include one’s reflection processes, decision-making practices, individual interactions with students, daily classroom practices, and proactive course design choices (McNair et al. 2020). 

In the classroom, equity-minded educators adopt and iterate on a set of practices that promote, but also go beyond, “inclusion.” This means that they both understand that systemic inequities have shaped educational disenfranchisement for marginalized students, and use practices that actively disrupt those inequities so that they are not continued (University of Michigan CRLT). These practices involve “deliberately cultivating a learning environment where students have equal access to learning; feel valued and supported in their learning; experience parity in achieving positive course outcomes; and share responsibility for the equitable engagement and treatment of all the learning community.” In this way, equity-minded teaching is an approach that is student-centered and holistic, and it “permeate[s] every aspect of curriculum and course design,” including how we assess student learning (Iturbe-LaGrave 2018).

At the TLC we strive to honor and enliven the principles and practices of equity-mindedness in all of our materials and resources. Importantly, the strategies we uplift often relate to the “how” of instruction — how we structure class engagement and assignments, make expectations for academic success clear, and create the conditions for equitable participation and engagement. We offer principles and practices below, and on our Antiracist Teaching and Designing for Accessibility pages, that can help us as a campus community to address the needs and strengths of UC Santa Cruz students, with special call-outs for online and technologically enhanced courses. 

Equity-Minded Teaching Practices Include:

  • Work with and consistently revisit the Five Fundamentals of Antiracist Teaching to create more racially just learning environments.
  • Design proactively for accessibility by enacting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in course and assignment design, and by using accessible course materials.
  • Utilize active learning strategies, which are shown in research to disproportionately enhance the academic success and sense of belonging of many minoritized students. 
  • Provide students with options for how their learning is assessed, and consider equitable grading designs that seek to minimize.
  • Build continuous student feedback into the design of your classes, to provide pathways for transparent communication.

Equity-Minded Teaching at UCSC

Our Responsibility as a Minority-Serving Institution

Equity-minded teaching is particularly important for fulfilling the responsibility we carry as a minority-serving institution. UC Santa Cruz is Hispanic Serving Research Institution (HSRI), which means that we serve a student population of at least 25% Latinx-identified students and a high proportion of low-income students (27% of undergraduates identify as Latinx or Hispanic as of Fall 2022, and 31% of undergraduates are Pell grant recipients). We are also an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI), defined by the Higher Education Act as a university that enrolls at least 10% Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander students (30% of undergraduates as of Fall 2022).

These two designations have given us, as an institution, a special responsibility to develop and meet racial equity goals to ensure holistic student success for minoritized students. For principles and practices related to racial equity, visit the Antiracist Teaching page.

Prioritizing Access for Students with Disabilities

About 13% of UCSC students affiliate with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to achieve accommodations and ensure access to their education. The DRC supports accommodations for students with learning disabilities; visual, mobility, and hearing disabilities; psychological disabilities; chronic system disorders; and temporary medical conditions. However, we know from campus climate surveys that many more students identify as having a known disability—likely closer to 25% of the student body. 

Equity-minded educators are committed to disability justice and recognize that many more students will have disabilities than are affiliated with the DRC. They therefore think proactively about accessibility by using strategic practices in their course planning. Learn more about designing for accessibility in multiple teaching modalities.

Uplifting First-Gen Students

About a third of enrolled UCSC students are first-generation college students, meaning that their parents/caretakers have not received a degree from a four-year institution. As educators, we can aim to understand the unique strengths that first-generation students bring to our campus, and adopt teaching strategies that can foster sense of belonging and redress the particular institutional challenges they may face.


UCSC First-Gen Initiative

  • Our first-gen initiative is part of a UC-wide effort to serve faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Resources for first-gen undergraduates, graduate students, and parents/guardians of first-gen students can be found here, as well as information about attending Initiative-sponsored events.

First-Generation Student Reflections

  • To address the cultural transition to college, the Culture and Achievement Collaborative at UC Santa Cruz, now known as Collaborative Research for Equity in Action (CREA), administered surveys and facilitated a 2-hour interactive conversation with 19 first-generation college students in the spring quarter of their first year. This booklet communicates the students’ feedback for staff and faculty on how to better serve them.

Teaching First-Generation Latinx Students (Alicia M. Reyes-Barriéntez)

  • Written by an educator who was a first-generation college student, this article offers some strategies for making classrooms more inclusive through the lens of serving Latinx first-gen students.

Amplifying Strengths of Multilingual Students

49% of undergraduates entering UC Santa Cruz in Fall 2017 identified their first language as a language other than English, or another language in addition to English. When the data are disaggregated, 96% of international students and 46% of U.S.-based students fall into this general category. All students have varying relationships to writing and speaking in standard academic English and using disciplinary norms of communication. While many of our resources on antiracist and accessible teaching support multilingual students to thrive in their classes, we also provide a few resources here that center the strengths of multilingual students.


Special Considerations for Equity-Minded Online Teaching

Students who enroll in online courses have many different reasons for doing so. For students who live a significant distance from the UCSC campus, online courses can allow them to reduce the amount of time they spend commuting to class. For students who are parents or caretakers, online courses can help alleviate the burden of finding childcare each time they need to attend class. 

Designing online courses to foster an equitable classroom climate and provide learning-centered options for students is particularly important for serving minoritized students and others who can benefit from the flexibility offered by learning online. 

Below are some special recommendations for creating an equitable environment that provides students with flexibility and choice in your asynchronous or synchronous online courses

Asynchronous Instruction

Asynchronous online courses are courses that students complete on their own time, rather than attending lectures or group meetings at a regular, specified time. Asynchronous courses often make use of recorded lecture videos to deliver course content and tools like Canvas Discussions to create opportunities for interaction among students.

By their nature, asynchronous online courses offer the highest degree of flexibility for students. Unpredictable work schedules, child care responsibilities, and other obligations can more easily be accommodated when students do not need to attend lectures at a specified time.

At the same time, asynchronous courses present greater challenges for fostering an inclusive classroom community because students may have few (or no) opportunities to engage with each other face-to-face. Instructors who teach asynchronously should take active measures to foster an inclusive classroom community in their courses.

Synchronous Instruction

In a synchronous online course, students and the instructor(s) come together at regular and specified times—most often through a live video tool like Zoom. While synchronous online courses may offer students more flexibility than in-person courses (by reducing commute time, for instance), they are less flexible than asynchronous courses.

Synchronous online class sessions via tools like Zoom may pose additional challenges for equity. Participation in live Zoom sessions requires students to have access to a high-speed and reliable internet connection, as well as adequate technology to support the Zoom application.

Additionally, to get the most out of synchronous online courses, students should have access to a quiet and private study space from which they can call into Zoom meetings; unfortunately, not all students will. To make your synchronous online course more equitable, we recommend building in student choice to help mitigate these issues.

Resources about equity in online teaching