teacher in classroom with young students

Empowering Students through Equity and Inclusivity

As your host, allow me to share a personal tale that mirrors what our esteemed guest, Dr. Gary Walker-Roberts, passionately advocates for. Remember the time when you felt singled out in school because you needed extra help with a certain subject? You were given the extra attention you needed to thrive, but it could be seen as preferential treatment by the other students. That's equity in action - ensuring every student succeeds, regardless of their unique circumstances, instead of creating a one-size-fits-all education. Join us as we explore this empowering concept with Dr. Gary, revealing how it fosters fairness and inclusivity in our educational systems.

In the second segment of our conversation, we focus on the LGBTQIAA+ community, discussing the essential steps schools need to take to create a safe, inclusive environment for all students. Dr. Gary enlightens us on how empathy, grace, and personal stories can push for transformative change. Moreover, we touch on his recently published book, Motivation and Momentum in Adult Online Education, which emphasizes the importance of creating a motivating digital learning environment for LGBTQIAA+ students. Tune in to this heartening conversation as we challenge conventional norms and highlight the vital need for fairness in education.

Show Notes

  • 0:00:30 - Creating Equity in Schools (105 Seconds)
  • 0:04:46 - Personal Connection to Equity (155 Seconds)
  • 0:09:44 - Equity and Inclusion in Education (97 Seconds)
  • 0:16:05 - Equitable Measures for Persons with Disabilities (91 Seconds)

0:00:01 – ANNOUNCER:

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I’m Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success- the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today, we're talking about how to make schools more equitable and who may benefit when schools focus on equity. According to the California League of Educators, equity can be defined as a responsive educational attempt that is provided to meet the instructional needs of students when they need it, in a way that is relevant to their academic backgrounds and social and cultural identities. This is not to be confused with equality, which means offering the same instruction to everyone, regardless of who they are or their background.

An interesting conversation on today's show. On today's episode, we're discussing how to make schools more equitable and we're talking with Dr. Gary Walker Roberts, a professor in the Advanced Graduate Studies Department of the Sanford College of Education at National University. Dr. Gary earned a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies, Gender and Sexualities at California State University, East Bay, and thereafter Dr. Gary earned a Master of Arts in English at Arizona State University and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Education, with a specialization in e-learning, at Legacy North Central University. Dr. Gary enjoys the role as a professor, dissertation committee chair and subject matter expert, where they successfully facilitate doctoral candidates to reach the terminal degrees. Lastly, Dr. Gary is a proud inaugural member of National University's System Social Justice, equity, diversity and Inclusion office, where they champion the Inclusive Excellence Framework with a focus on LGBTQIAA+ inclusion and equity at National University, and we welcome Dr. Gary to the podcast. Welcome, how are you?

0:02:17 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Hi Kim, Thanks so much for welcoming me. I'm so excited to be here today and talk about equity in the school systems.

0:02:26 - Kimberly King

Wonderful. Why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:02:33 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Yeah, excellent. So you did a great job with my introduction and I definitely, I definitely really advocate for equitable measures in schools and something that we talk about today, but I love to engage with students and to really help them fulfill their academic dreams and become better citizens in our society and also reach goals that pertain to worldwide goals. So that's what I love to do and to really see them grow and reach those goals.

0:03:13 - Kimberly King

Excellent. How would you define equity in terms of education?

0:03:18 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Great question. The first thing I would like to do is just talk about the definition. The definition of equity is the quality of being fair, so it's about fairness. Therefore, I would define equity in schools as recreating an educational landscape where all students have a fair shot at reaching their academic goals. What I think of equity, though? The visual image that comes to mind is the one where the students are standing on blocks to see over a fence, and in that image you'll see all of the students have equal access to the fence, but some students can't see over the fence. It depends on how tall they are. So the taller student can see over the fence if it's three feet tall. Any student over three feet can see over the fence, but if a student's under that three-foot marker, then they really can't see the game that's happening over the fence. So what happens is if we put blocks underneath the student that can't see over the fence. Those are examples of equitable measures that we put in place so that everybody gets a fair chance to see what's happening over the fence.

0:04:33 - Kimberly King

That's great and I love that visualization. You really explained that well. And I'm only five feet so I would not be able to see over that fence, so the blocks are very important. Why is equity so important to you? Is there a personal connection?

0:04:51 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Yeah, so I'd love to share with you a little bit of a personal connection to equity. So I have a hearing disability. I was born with holes in my eardrums and I've had surgeries to correct the issue. But due to multiple ear infections as a child and multiple problems with my ears, I identify as a hard of hearing person, and the school that I attended when I was younger they would always sit me in the front row, which is an equitable measure. But other students and others always saw me sitting in the front, front and center at assemblies, plays, concerts, and sometimes they would think that I was just getting preferential treatment. And as a child I didn't really like the treatment because it kind of made me a target. And now that I reflect on it as an adult, I’m thankful to the school for putting those measures in place for me.

But I didn't have the ability to self-advocate for myself and, as I just talked about, in the vacuum it actually put a target on my back for my peers. So there were a couple of things that were going on right, like the adults in the room knew that I needed to have help, and with an equitable measure, and they saw that. But others thought it was an unfair treatment that they weren't able to be in the front row or front and center, and I always was there. So now, reflecting back on that, someone was my champion in the school district and they were looking out for my wellbeing and the spirit of fairness. So I wanna pay it forward. I want to be that equitable minded person in the room that really wants to advocate for fairness and also to teach others that maybe, seeing the equitable treatment as preferential treatment, to really put themselves in that person's shoes and be more empathetic and understanding of why that equitable measure has been put in place.

0:07:01 - Kimberly King

Thank you for explaining that. I think that's so true. And again, I think, just the overall advice to put yourself in other people's shoes, because we never know what other people are going through. So thank you for explaining that. I think that really kind of sheds a light on your passion. Let's see. The next question I wanted to ask you, Dr. Gary, is can you identify for us particular groups that need equitable measures in schools in order to have a fair opportunity in academia?

0:07:31 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Absolutely. Continuing with the above story. You know, students with disabilities definitely need to be front and center, top of mind, when it comes to equitable services. As we transition from the in-person learning environment to emergency remote learning, which we all just lived through, this trauma experience a huge- yeah, right, a huge awareness on how poorly we were able to service our students with disabilities came to light very, very quickly. And with the understanding of emergency remote learning, we were learning as we were going, but I do have my PhD in e-learning, so I understood the strategies that need to be put in place to make a more equitable e-learning experience for all students, but we didn't have that time to really act on it. That's why it was called emergency remote learning, and so, as we think about asynchronous learning, post-pandemic, we really wanna take what we've learned and know that remote learning is here to stay. So we have gone back to in-person at multiple locations. However, the awareness of the accessibility of e-learning has now been found out, if you will, and so students are going to flock to e-learning and to really utilize that pathway for themselves to reach their academic goals.

So we wanna make sure that we're creating an environment for students that are choosing to engage in e-learning. I even know that at the nontraditional student level and higher academia, this is something that we've worked on. But in the K-12 system, I think it's very important that we recognize that the next emergency is right around the corner and that also even a snow day could be an emergency remote learning day, or weather related hurricanes or tornadoes- I mean God forbid, but those things do happen. So we have to be ready to service all students in the capacity of e-learning. Another learning group that comes to mind that we wanna advocate for are our ELLs- English Language Learners and our MLLs, the Multilingual Learners. They definitely need the equitable service and equitable measure to be able to access material, course material in multiple languages. So I particularly work with two subject matter experts at National University on this topic, Dr. Maggie Broderick and Dr. Samira Galvao, and I'm constantly learning from them on how to put equitable measures in place as I teach at National University.

0:10:24 - Kimberly King

Good for you. And it sounds like you're for sure, ahead of the curve with your e-learning being put in place, maybe just as you mentioned that emergency and we were all under that emergency umbrella, but it sounds like you had a good format in place. What doctor is your area of expertise and how does that intersect with equity in schools? You kind of just talked a little bit about putting those, the multiple learners, our language learners and all that, but can you expand on that?

0:10:57 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Yeah, absolutely. So. I am a subject matter expert on all aspects of LGBTQIAA plus and I will make note that the intersection of LGBTQIAA plus people intersects all other groups that you know are involved with learning. So you know, we expand race, ethnicity, religion, ability, disability, seen or unseen, so we expand all of those demographics. And I think an equitable measure to start with for the LGBTQIAA+ community is to ensure that they have a safe place for learning. And again, the equity is that everyone gets to show up to learn right, so everybody gets a chance to come and learn, whether it's in person or online. But the unfairness is that the space in which LGBTQIAA plus students learn has historically been very unsafe, whether it's hostile or bullying situations. You know they definitely need this safe space to learn and studies show that students learn best when they feel safe and comfortable in the environment.

0:12:24 - Kimberly King

And you know it just even speaking from my personal experience, my son, who's now 24, and my daughter, 22. But my son was bullied in middle school, which is always such a fun time of life. Not necessarily, but you know, and he- and it's true, I think no matter what your environment is, as long as you feel safe and not and really protected, because people, kids, can be so mean. And of course, you know in person and you know even via the internet now too. It's just we're at a different area in life in the world, so good for you. What actions can academic stakeholders take to ensure equitable measures that they're in place?

0:13:05 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

That's a great question because I think, you know, making sure that we have call to action Solutions is very important and I think the first thing that academic stakeholders can do is to seek out professional development opportunities. I had mentioned that I work with two subject matter experts for English language learners and also the Multilingual learners. So really finding out those subject matter experts who can help to put in some wonderful Measures to make sure that the environment is equitable is important. Another approach academic stakeholders can take is to engage with their students. I think this is very, very important.

Whether it's, you know, the president of the university or the staff member that's Enrolling the student, or the professor who's teaching the student, I think each can take a very different angle at really engaging with students and hearing their stories and finding out how they are feeling. Are we meeting the level of equitable services that they need to be successful in academia? Hearing stories is always important, right? So a particular story that I love to hear was from our doctor, DACA or dreamer students, right? They certainly need that safety again on campus or equitable measures to be able to thrive in academia.

Hearing individual stories really helps the empathy level you can empathize with a situation that someone's going through. Empathy is a great characteristic to have and it doesn't mean that you have to have sympathy for somebody. Right, feel sorry for somebody, but empathy is seeing it through, through the shoes or the eyes or the lens of someone else, and when you do that, you recognize your privilege and you recognize that being empathetic perhaps will help somebody who needs that equitable measure to make the playing field fair for them. And, just like you were speaking about, you might need that extra box right to look over the fence, but I'm not gonna look at that box. Is taking away from me, but helping you achieve something that I already get to enjoy.

0:15:33 - Kimberly King

Okay, I like that. Again. You know you just said it in the very beginning and it's, I think, empathy is the headline here. And you know you even mentioned disabilities and some you can see and some you can't. And my mom had a 10-year journey with Alzheimer's. And so I have a passion to really help seniors, but those that have Alzheimer's, but help open the eyes to others and be compassionate and empathetic for that, for that, because you don't necessarily see that, that disability. So I love that you said that.

0:16:05 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

And the other thing that I would mention is to reserve judgment and approach situations with the best intentions. And you know, speaking of persons with disabilities, like there are equitable measures where sometimes they get to go to the front of the line. And if it's unseen disability, we may see them walk in right and get what we think is preferential treatment, and we're standing in the line. But what we don't know is what's going on with that person or that individual. Maybe they can stand up for, you know, a certain amount of time, but instead of instead of feeling like it's being taken, something's being taken away from me or that an individual, think of it as best intentions that the education, that the academic institution or whatever business, they are taking into consideration the needs of that person to make the grounds fair.

0:17:06 - Kimberly King

I love that. Everything with a little bit of grace, right- And just yeah. So, Dr., can you give some examples of how you've helped make schools more equitable in your tenure in academia?

0:17:19 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Yeah, and you know it goes back to the groups that we're definitely talking about right. So I think making sure that we have equitable measures for those who need a bit more fairness when it comes to the education system. One particular example that I can give you I worked on at the community college district was gender neutral restrooms, right. So gender neutral restrooms- When you identify in the binary and things are really perfect in that area for you, then you feel comfortable using, whether it's the male bathroom or the female bathroom. But if you identify outside of the gender binary, it can be very uncomfortable to use one of those bathrooms. So when it came to on campus, specifically our students that identified as gender neutral or transgender, they could not use restrooms. Right, they weren't able to use a restroom that they felt comfortable in. Or the campus had a gender neutral restroom clear across campus.

And after hearing stories from our trans students and also our disabled students with disabilities, they were talking about how they have to look at the class schedule and take classes in classrooms that are near the gender neutral restroom because they weren't displaced throughout campus. And I thought, wow, I never really had to think about that specifically.

And so, hearing those stories, I started to advocate for more gender neutral restrooms around campus. A particular story that a trans student shared with us was that they would get medical urinary tract infections from not being able to use the restroom that they felt comfortable in, or they would have to, you know, hold their urine if they were supposed to be taking a test and they couldn't leave the classroom, which was very dangerous for them medically as well. And then there was a student with a disability that shared a story that talked about how they could not use the restroom without their husband, so the husband needed to access the restroom with their wife in order for them to be able to, you know, relieve themselves, and that created also a medical situation for that student. So just thinking about gender neutral restrooms as an equitable measure for fairness on campus was really eye-opening. And what happened is we advocated for with the board of directors, and any new building built in this community college district would ensure that there were specifically placed gender neutral restrooms anywhere there was a binary restroom.

0:20:27 - Kimberly King

So that's one, one example that I'm very proud of well, good, and you know the other thing that just by you talking about that really opens up. I think there's a lack of communication where we kind of just really need to take time to listen to others, right, and here's the entire story, just because it is eye-opening or maybe something perhaps we haven't thought about. So I think that that message gets cut off sometimes, and so I'm glad you explained that and good for you. How can people get involved in their schools to help make change from an equitable framework?

0:21:08 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

So most schools have programs to advocate for equitable services And, for example, we, you know schools have the DSPS students with disabilities programs and services. There's a specific office. They can get in touch with the director of the program and start that building that relationship. And out of that relationship they'll learn how they can get involved in other resources as well. Another great way to get involved is to partner with their equity, diversity and inclusion office or their DEI, and they can get in touch with those leaders and see who is advocating for which community or group of students that need equitable measures, and one that we are specifically that we talked about today was the LGBTQIA A plus community, and these are great offices for educational components as well, whether you want to incorporate them into your classroom or into your programs. I think those are great places to start.

0:22:18 - Kimberly King

Okay, great, this has been very interesting, this information. We have to take a quick break. More in just a moment with Dr. Gary, don't go away. We'll be right back. And now back to our interview with Dr. Gary Walker Roberts, and we're talking about equity in school, and so, Dr. Gary, it's been super interesting. Can you tell us a little more on your book, the chapter recently published titled Creating an Inclusive and Motivational E-Learning Environment for LGBTQ Online Students in Higher Education?

0:22:51 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Oh, Kim, so somebody must have looped you in on my recent publication. Yes, I would love to talk about that. It's actually published through IGI Global Publications And the book title is Motivation and Momentum in Adult Online Education, edited by Dr. Amy E. Lyn and Dr. Maggie Broderick. So my chapter Creating an Inclusive and Motivating E-Learning Environment for LGBTQ Plus Online Students in Higher Education has a lot of content in which we're talking about today in the previous segment. But I mean, I would love to read a segment. It's from page 238.

And I write that LGBTQ Plus students have a long history of facing abuse of conditions in the American education system when compared to their straight counterparts, and you and I were just talking about bullying and how it affects people in the education system. I continue to say it's true that the Stonewall uprising have bolstered generations of LGBTQ people and allies to advocate for equitable measures in academia. In fact, America has seen an uptick in people coming out over the last 10 years. Let et al in 2020 articulated that the growth over the last 10 years has impacted LGBTQ Plus people to live their authentic selves, and GLSEN demonstrated that 81.8% of queer students reported they fear being attacked on campus due to homophobia or transphobia. So I think it goes back to certainly talking about how do we provide safe space for our learners And, again, whether it's on campus or in e-learning environments.

The chapter talks about how you can create, how professors can create, a safe environment online, and that's by allowing students to articulate what their correct gender pronouns are. In the Zoom box, they can put their gender pronoun and also their correct name. Everybody doesn't identify as the name that they were given at birth, and so we want to make sure that they are using correct names, and sometimes, you know, through paperwork and legal processes, individuals have to use the name that they were given at birth for legal reasons, but it may not be their correct name. So we want to be very cognizant of that And we don't want to out people by using their birth name or their dead name. It's called, and we want to really honor and respect their correct name.

0:25:48 - Kimberly King

And so congratulations for being published on that. I know that's a lot of work that you put into that. What are the outcomes when schools focus on equity, and who benefits?

0:26:01 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Another great question. So you know the outcomes. The ultimate outcome is the students are learning right, like, they are provided the space where it's fair and just, that they are able to thrive and learn, expand their knowledge. I think that's what the academic system in America aims for is to really give the tools and the knowledge so that students can leave and become productive citizens in our society and make great contributions worldwide, whatever their dream may be. So we all benefit, right? So I think that's a great question And you know we leave nobody behind. When schools focus on making sure that they have equitable measures in place, we all benefit.

0:26:52 - Kimberly King

Okay, that's great. What do you say to people who feel that the education system is equitable for everyone already and focusing on specific groups gives the particular group an advantage?

0:27:03 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

I love this one because I know I would circle back to the definition of equity versus equality, right? So equality is making sure that everybody has the ability to show up to learn, But equity is putting in measures to ensure that everybody has a fair shot at obtaining that knowledge. So there seems to be some confusion around the two concepts of equity versus equality. And in my experience and oh, by the way, when I first heard equity, I immediately thought equality as well. So, you know, I think it's understanding that until we get the knowledge between the difference between the two and I know that you loved the visual that I kind of set up in the beginning, But if you do a Google search, you could see that image, just you know, you could Google search equity versus equality And you'll see the visual image on those blocks to really that resemble the measures put in place for an equitable fairness situation.

So I think it's first and foremost again, I want to be empathetic to the two people who don't really have a full understanding between the two. But once they get that clear understanding, I believe that it makes it easier, that they can be more empathetic and they could lead with their heart. And I don't think anybody out there would say that they specifically want an advantage in any particular situation, including the American education system, over another person. Right, I don't know. And if they do, then we would have a different conversation, right? But if they understand the difference, I believe that people really would like to see, or would understand, why an equitable measure needs to be put in place for fairness to reach true equality.

0:29:17 - Kimberly King

Very nice. What is your overall hope and dream for equity in schools?

0:29:23 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Wow, Kim, that is- that's a really big question, right?

So if I think about my hopes and dream, I think that I would hope to see that there is a fair and just education system for all, and, with that being said, whether it's somebody who's coming back to get their degree or who's coming in right after the K-12 system in higher education, or getting their high school diploma, an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, their terminal degree or even a CTE certificate to go into the trades, whatever that dream may be, I just hope that they will find fairness in the system to be able to obtain the degrees in which they seek or the skills in which they seek, to be able to skill up and get a promotion, or to enter a new career, or to have a legacy to hand down to their family members right to be the first in their family to earn a degree or a certificate.

So I think that my hope and dream is that everybody who wants to earn a degree or a certificate has a fair and equal opportunity to do so in a comfortable, safe environment. I don't know, is that too much to ask for?

0:30:59 - Kimberly King

No, it's 2023 after all. Right, so you come from a great place and I think you said in the very, very beginning, and that is that we really need to work harder on putting ourselves into others' shoes, because we just don't know what people are going through. So that's very honorable, but we thank you so much for your time. This has been really interesting and if you do want more information, you can visit National University's website. It's nu.edu. And Dr. Gary, we look forward to your next visit. Thank you so much.

0:31:34 - Doctor Gary Walker-Roberts

Thank you.

0:31:38 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

       "Students with disabilities definitely need to be front and center, top of mind, when it comes to equitable services." - Gary Walker-Roberts https://shorturl.at/cnDMX                Click to Tweet                     
       “The intersection of LGBTQIAA+ people intersects all other groups that you know are involved with learning... An equitable measure to start with for the LGBTQIAA+ community is to ensure that they have a safe place for learning." - Gary Walker-Roberts https://shorturl.at/cnDMX                Click to Tweet