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Shared equity leadership

How we can all join in creating a more equitable university environment.

This piece was originally published by Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion here

Members of the University of Utah community are collectively entering into year three of our commitment to the creation and growth of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) on our campus. During the first two years, the university committed to supporting and resourcing new EDI initiatives which have been integrated into our four pillars via the Strategy Refresh process. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion established a strong foundation for this work, and we will continue to elevate the University of Utah as a leader in higher education and in our state by addressing systemic barriers to equity so that all students and communities can thrive.

Research and experience show us that changing historical practices and institutional cultures or norms is not easy, even when these changes will benefit everyone. We also know that typical approaches to “diversity” on campus or in our organizations have not worked to address core inequitable practices and policies. These persistent problems will not be solved by campus leaders attending a two-hour “diversity training” (even though it could be helpful). In fact, at the New Leadership Academy, we believe that all challenges and opportunities faced by leaders are related to equity, diversity, or inclusion. Therefore, leadership at all levels must be equipped with the knowledge, tools and courage to lead with equity.

Leaders are paramount to making significant progress on issues of equity—but relying (or waiting) on individual leaders to act will not get us to equity. Enacting change of this magnitude is not the work of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion alone. EDI sets the strategic vision, but it takes the courage and dedication of many leaders, with diverse talents and strengths, united in their vision to create a more equitable university environment. What could this type of distributed but collaborative leadership look like?

The American Council on Education (ACE) recently released a report defining Shared Equity Leadership (SEL) as a documented successful model for equity across an entire university community. In the SEL model, leadership is shared between a number of campus representatives who hold both formal and informal leadership roles.

SEL consists of three main elements: “1) individuals who have undergone some sort of personal journey toward critical consciousness or built a critical consciousness, cementing their commitment to equity; 2) values that are shared among members of the leadership team or group; and 3) a set of practices that leaders continually enact which both enable them to share leadership and to create more just and equitable conditions on their campuses” (Kezar, Holcombe, Vigil, & Dizon, 2021, p. 6).

The three elements of SEL are visually represented in the graph below:

Source/Credit: Kezar, Adrianna, Elizabeth Holcombe, Darsella Vigil, and Jude Paul Mathias Dizon. 2021. Shared Equity Leadership: Making Equity Everyone’s Work. Washington, DC: American Council on Education; Los Angeles: University of Southern California, Pullias Center for Higher Education.

The mobilization of committed individuals from across campus collectively centers equity so that attention is focused on addressing inequitable practices and systemic barriers that have persisted on campus, replacing them with innovative and equitable practices or policies. The recently announced EDI Strategy Council will exemplify shared equity leadership at the University of Utah. Their goals will include identifying, recommending and creating accountability measures of equity on campus.

If you’re not tapped on the shoulder to join the EDI Strategy Council at this time, let me remind you that we must continue to move beyond a hierarchical conception of leadership—especially around equity work. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is setting the tone and providing resources and opportunities for engagement beyond the council—and that, too, is shared equity leadership.