Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. I believe that most people support this definition because that is how they want to be judged. When I consider how equity fits into Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Respect (DEIR) within ACS and beyond, I use the following definition from Rigoberto Hernandez’s March 2019 Comment as my guide: “Equity is when each of us has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of initial privilege.”
Our country is built on this foundation. Countless people have worked to improve their status in life asking only to be judged on their abilities and skills. Countless immigrants have come to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their children asking only to be judged the same way. Our country is far from perfect in providing fair and impartial judgments, but I believe we can work to live up to our country’s ideals.
Our system of higher education supports this foundation by providing multiple pathways for individuals to reach their education goals. Community colleges, technical colleges, and state universities—including land grant universities—provide opportunities that were not available 200 years ago. Labor unions were formed to advocate for workers’ rights. These institutions all ideally provide opportunities through fair and impartial judgments.
For me, initial privilege is about being provided advantageous opportunities based on characteristics unrelated to skills and abilities, instead of those opportunities coming from having differential skills and abilities. Initial privilege provides opportunities and opens doors that lead to more opportunities and more open doors. We have all seen initial privilege play out even if we did not recognize it. It can be hard for a person to recognize initial privilege when that person is the beneficiary of such privilege. That statement is not meant to lay blame; it is meant to prompt you to think about how you may have benefitted from an initial privilege.
We need to work to eliminate behaviors that are unjust. The loss of opportunities based on lack of initial privilege is unjust, and we should acknowledge this situation. Then we have to address the more difficult task of providing equal opportunity to everyone regardless of initial privilege. If we can do this, I believe it will lead to individuals without initial privilege experiencing a great level of respect and feeling more included because they are being treated equitably. Within ACS, this will lead to greater diversity because our society will be judged as a welcoming organization. In ACS, we value inclusion and respect. And we value diversity and equity.
If you are a member of a well-represented group, when was the last time you were a minority in the room? Did you feel uncomfortable? Did you grasp the significance of the situation? Now consider always being the minority in the room.
When was the last time you felt excluded? Did you let the situation pass? Did you politely point it out? Did you make a big deal about it? What would you want someone to do if you unknowingly made them feel excluded?
Being the minority in the room and feeling excluded are the norm for many of our fellow members even at ACS meetings and events.
ACS needs to undergo a transformation, and I believe it has already started. DEIR is now a core value, and we have added goal 5, “Embrace and advance inclusion in chemistry,” to the ACS Strategic Plan. We have an Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect; we have training sessions for leaders, members, and staff; and we have local sections and divisions that are working to develop their own committees and activities. Sensitivity to and support for DEIR continues to grow across the society.
Regardless of how you interpret equity versus equality, I ask that you join me and others in establishing an inclusive culture in ACS. I assure you that at this time, all ACS members do not consider ACS to be an inclusive and welcoming society. Institutional initiatives alone will not ensure the future of ACS or make science, technology, engineering, and math fields more equitable, inclusive, and respectful. We must take action as individuals to ensure the common good. We must adopt inclusive language. We must understand and navigate the extra burden imposed by our well-intentioned efforts to be inclusive. We must work to become cognizant of barriers that we don’t currently realize and may not fully understand. We must work to understand the particular challenges of specific underrepresented groups. We must be allies and not saviors. We must do this for the good of ACS and of society.
It is our responsibility to secure the future of ACS for all members.
Let’s start with equity.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.