Stepping Stools: Equity vs Equality

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Post by Melody Cheung, Equity Ambassador and 3rd-year Arts student

At one of the very first meetings of the Equity Ambassadors (EA), one of the EA’s drew two pictures on the board. The picture was of people standing on blocks. On the left, everyone was standing on the same sized block whilst on the right everyone was standing on different sized blocks. This was the beginning of my journey in learning what equity means.

A quick Google search on the definition of equity brings up words such as ‘impartiality’ and ‘fairness’. But what does this really mean? How is it different than the world equality? What I learned that day was pretty eye-opening. It happened through a short anecdote about the difference between these two terms and how important it is.

Imagine that you are at a baseball game and have to look over a fence in order to see the game. There are also several others who are in the same situation as you are. The fence is quite high so everyone needs a stepping stool of some sort to see over the fence. In equality, everyone would get the same sized stepping stool. Thus, one can immediately see a glaring problem! Not everyone is the same height. This is where equity steps in. In being equitable, everyone would get different sized stepping stools so that they could all see over the fence. Everyone would get a chance to view the game.

This is what equity is about; it is about how people need different ‘boosts’ in order to have a fair chance to participate in society. When I first learned this concept, I was surprised that I hadn’t thought of equity in that way before and that it made so much sense after being explained. I think equity is such a simple concept yet it can have such profound reach.

Equity in essence is about ‘fairness’ but the way it brings it about is quite different than equality. For me equity has to do with paying attention to specific needs and working with individuals and groups to provide customised ‘stepping stools’ in the form of social, economic and political tools. This definition of equity is a cornerstone of being an Equity Ambassador and something that will continue to guide my journey in promoting equity in all its forms.

A note about the Equity Ambassadors logo: One of the EA’s suggested the ‘baseball’ anecdote be incorporated into our logo and this was the result! I’ve been working on the design with input from all the EA’s and I am so excited to be able to create discussion around the reasons behind the ‘stepping stools’.

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