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Revitalizing the American Evaluation Association’s definition of equity

While recently attending the American Evaluation Association (AEA) 2019 conference, we discovered that the AEA defines equity as follows:

“The condition of fair and just opportunities for all people to participate and thrive in society regardless of individual or group identity or difference. Striving to achieve equity includes mitigating historic disadvantage and existing structural inequalities” (

This definition is problematic in several ways. First, “condition” reads as a negative state of being, whereas equity is a positive state that we are striving for.

We also felt troubled by the phrase “regardless of individual or group identity or difference.” This phrase makes the issues surrounding true equity seem so simple - regardless of who you are you too can achieve equity! This brings to mind the idea of “centering whiteness” where being white is the norm and provides the standard to determine how one thrives in society. This “others” people who do not identity as white, and makes difference seem like a barrier toward achieving equity. Instead of minimizing difference, equity work should be focused on the diverse experiences of people for whom social and political systems do not serve.

In addition, the use of the word “mitigating” alludes to a mindset in which these historic disadvantages and structural inequalities can be easily addressed through simple interventions. Finally, “existing” makes it seem like structural inequalities exist or don’t exist, rather than that they exist and are maintained through political policies and social structures that perpetuate historic disadvantage.

In light of these concerns, we suggest revitalizing the AEA definition of equity as follows:

“The state of society in which fair and just opportunities are available and accessible for all people, especially those who have traditionally experienced systemic oppression, to participate and thrive. Striving to achieve equity includes recognizing and incorporating an understanding of historic disadvantage and structural inequalities into evaluations.”

It is from this definition that we strive to incorporate equity into our own work.

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