Awareness & Action in Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 45 seconds

I was thinking recently about Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, and the role of awareness and action in how it all plays out. And as my thinking tends to benefit from quadrants, I came up with this diagram, which, while useful as is, would benefit from some nuance and context related to invisible dimensions such as authenticity. Let’s look at the diagram first.

Four quadrants involving two dimensions: Awareness and Action. High awareness and high action is Intentionally Equitable. High awareness and low action is Intentionally Inequitable. Low awareness and low action is Unintentionally Inequitable. Low awareness and high action is Unintentionally Equitable.
Action and Awareness Matrix for Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

The concept behind Interpreting this matrix is inspired by an Arab saying about ignorance and knowledge. The Arab saying (see it in Arabic here, attributed to Ali Ibn Abi Taleb) is goes something like this, roughly translated:

  • There are those who know, and they know they know. They are knowers/scientists, so learn from them;
  • There are those who know, but they don’t know that they know. They are asleep so alert them (help them realize the value of what they know);
  • There are those who don’t know, and they know they don’t know, and those are ignorant, so teach them;
  • There are those who don’t know, and they don’t know that they don’t know, and those are hopeless/stupid, so avoid/ignore them

OK, now back to the matrix. If we think about Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, which really boils down to awareness about inequity and acting upon this awareness to redress injustice, then it makes sense that two major things need to happen for IEH to happen: awareness and action. But also, looking at this in a matrix format allows us to figure out how to enhance someone’s IEH, right? So here goes my initial thinking around this matrix:

  • High awareness/high action = Role models for Intentionally Equitable Hospitality. These are people who know and act, and we can learn from them
  • Low awareness/high action = Potential allies, unitentionally equitable people who do good things that are inclusive of diverse people but they aren’t really aware of inequity, or their intentions are different, like good pedagogy, rather than redressing injustice per se. For example, giving students choices in order to enhance engagement not to address diverse strengths. This is the kind of person who would be amazing (move up to high awareness and high action) if we work on increasing their awareness about inequity and how what they already do fulfills multiple goals.
  • Low awareness/low action = newbies, unintentionally Inequitable people who aren’t aware and aren’t doing anything. These are people we need to teach, and we Need to work on two fronts: enhancing their awareness about inequity AND teaching them strategies to redress injustice.
  • High awareness/low action = <resistant? I am thinking of a name here that is not offensive> intentionally inequitable people who are aware of inequity but choose not to act to redress it. This is the most difficult group to work with. They are people who may get an accommodation letter and choose not to change anything in their pedagogy to support a student with a disability to succeed. I will diverge from the Arab saying here, because I don’t think we should ignore of avoid this person, much as we may want to. This person, I think, may have different reasons why they don’t take action. It may be technical: they don’t know HOW to act, so maybe we teach them strategies. But if they have strategies and choose NOT to act, it may be a motivational issue, and we may need to work on intrinsic motivation (figure out what already matters to them, and see how to insert equity considerations into that) or extrinsic motivation (create policies that reward or require more equitable behavior).

What I think is interesting here is the implications for institutional action and professional development. When and with whom do we need to focus on spreading awareness versus teaching concrete strategies? And most importantly, how do we deal with that last group, that are resistant? Are they resistant because they do not care or is there something else, like believing it is beyond their capabilities, or thinking they do not have time, or believing that supporting those furthest from justice is “unfair” to the rest?

Another thing to consider is a couple of layers of nuance here. Someone can be really good at understanding certain marginalized groups but not others. For example, someone may notice gender inequality and prioritize it, but be less careful about race. Someone may be better at supporting blind students but less able to support students with ADHD. These are just some ways in which someone can vary in their capacity to be Intentionally Equitable. Moreover, there is an element of general care “about” versus care “for” and care “with” (Tronto’s work). One can generally care about gender inequality or disability justice. But it becomes different when it affects your own child or a close friend. You care for them. And it becomes something even more different if you start to recognize that you need to work with the person you’re caring for in order to support them the way THEY wish to be cared for, rather than assume what they need or prefer. In all of this, my main point is that generic care is different from care for a particular individual we know, and how close we are to them. As such, we may be selective in our care towards a particular individual or marginalized group over others.

I know this is the worst time to publish a blogpost like this, just before Christmas!! Many people on holiday, and people within my institution finalizing grades! But this is what happens when I submit grades. I get some excess energy.

If you end up reading this, I would love to hear your thoughts!

10 thoughts on “Awareness & Action in Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

  1. Love this TQ, and I think its the right time you are posting it. Spirit of festival also needs cleansing by facing the truth which is illustrated in this matrix. Naive question do you think in reality this matrix is more skewed to one side?

  2. Hmmm, that would be biased reply (contextual) but then nothing is unbiased. I feel that the matrix is more heavy to the top left corner.
    Although the beauty of the matrix is that it doesnt have any boundaries unlike a box

  3. And I would like to believe that too sometimes it is hard. But there is always hope this illustration is proof that glass is half full as well. Whole world thrives on that so does educational sector especially by the policy bearers… 🙂

  4. What a great idea to collect and respond to questions that remain after an IEH session. I’ll have to try this in other settings 🙂

    One respondent wonders “how to bring this idealism into a real-world situation that feels very hostile and even dangerous” – and this ties in closely with my comment (and someone’s addition to it) in the live session chat about external pressure in some jurisdictions specifically NOT to enact IEH in schools and universities. This is enforced through legislation, withdrawing funding and employment, threats of violence, banning books, etc. all to suppress education on issues of social justice. Action can mean risk in such situations. How might all this fit into the IEH matrix? While these pressures may come from outside the organization, I’m sure it’s safe to say there will also in some instances be an element inside that agrees and supports it.

    I suppose those who operate in this way could fall under the Intentionally Inequitable quadrant. Yet it seems that they are not only resistant but also actively hostile towards and openly acting against IEH – in other words, high awareness and high action but in the opposite direction to the goals of IEH. They know, but disagree. Perhaps this raises questions of knowledge in contrast to ethics, beliefs or other axiological concepts. So I’m thinking about how to fit all this together, and/or whether there’s another dimension here.

    I’m interested in any thoughts on this. This quadrant is a great tool to stimulate discussion, I should add!

    1. Wowwww you’re blowing my mind, because YES to all of that.

      Whenever I draw a Quadrant/matrix type of thing, I remember my math courses where we discussed things in 15 dimensions. And I guess maybe complexity cannot be presented elegantly in 4 quadrants. Within each Quadrant we can unpack the many other dimensions.

      Definitely, sometimes someone knows what can be done and wants to do it but risks being punished or fired for doing what they consider ethical. And systems go against equity all the time – even systems that perform in ways that seem to promote DEI, right?

      The other element is, even if you do this kind of work inside your own class or workshop, what happens when people go back out into the world with its Power dynamics? Does this work needs to empower people to challenge, resist and dismantle oppression, and not just be in a space where it is challenged. I.e. what good is IEH beyond the situation it was designed for and executed?

      The building community sustainably is meant to help us gain allies. It takes YEARS and blood, sweat and tears… but we can’t do it alone. And sometimes the community supporting us is people outside our organization at first, or less powerful people with it, but it grows if we keep trying. What are your thoughts?

      (And also, yes, I thought it was a cool idea to respond to the comments in the feedback asynchronously because there is no time to respond to all during the session and also they were great questions and got me thinking and I couldn’t wait to respond! But a good way to make ppl feel their feedback is heard and valued, and to stay connected between sessions, too!)

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