Learn About Equity and Inclusion

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What Mean When We Say…

People perform better, accomplish more, and have greater well-being when they have a sense of belonging. Belongingness cannot be nurtured without valuing diversity and the uniqueness that each person contributes to the whole, without attention to the very real barriers people face to equity and access, and without an inclusive environment where every persona and every interaction matters. [paragraph break] The following are terms that are used in IANR in our efforts to nurture belongingness. Some of these terms appear on our web pages, governance documents, job announcements, recruitment materials, course syllabi, faculty evaluation documents, etc. The descriptions below are designed to help faculty, staff, administrators, students, applicants, stakeholders and others have a shared understanding of these terms.

Sense of Belonging

A perception or feeling that one is a part of a group. Belonging is a basic emotional need. People have an inherent need to feel like they are part of a group. This helps them to feel socially and emotionally connected to something that is bigger than themselves. Belonging is important to individual and group identity. When someone has a sense of belonging, they feel that they have a connection with the people in the group that is greater than familiarity or simple acquaintance.


While equity refers to fairness and impartiality, it is more nuanced than these two terms suggest. To understand equity one must recognize that not everyone starts at the same place or has the same opportunity pathway. Because of the complex constellation of advantages and disadvantages that influence the opportunity pathway, disparities exist for people of similar innate and learned talents and abilities. Groups and individuals have greater or fewer opportunities and more or less access because of things that are outside of their control. For example, research shows that someone who grows up in a family with financial security has greater access to educational and other opportunities than someone who grows up in poverty. In this case, greater opportunity for success has less to do with innate capacity to succeed than socioeconomic status or where the person lives. These differences in opportunity or outcome are referred to as inequities. The terms achievement gap and opportunity gap refer to these inequities. When one is actively engaged in closing these gaps we say that that person has an equity mindset. Collectively, the IANR leadership team is attempting to nurture an equity mindset by looking for opportunities to improve access and achievement for groups underrepresented at the university and in its programs.

The AACU defines equity as: “The creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented populations to have equal access to and participate in educational programs that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion.” (https://www.aacu.org/making-excellence-inclusive). While equity refers to equal access as stated in this definition, it also refers to equal opportunities and equal outcomes.


In our case, access refers to the ability and freedom to take advantage of what the university has to offer. Access could refer to one’s ability to take advantage of for-credit or not-for-credit education, research, employment, etc. Foundational to the mission of land grant universities is improving access for those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to education and evidence-based information.


The constellation of differences that exist among people. While it is common to focus on the characteristics of diversity that can be seen (e.g., phenotype characteristics such as skin color, facial features, and sex), there are many more characteristics of diversity that can’t be seen. While each person contributes to the diversity of the whole, when we use the term diversity we are referring to the group and not the individual. For example, rather than referring to someone as a diverse student, faculty member, or staff member, it would be more accurate to acknowledge that this person contributes to the diversity of the group. This decreases the likelihood that there will be feelings of tokenism and increases the likelihood that each person’s contributions to the diversity of the group will be acknowledged.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) describes diversity as “individual differences (e.g., personality, prior knowledge, and life experiences) and group/social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations).” (https://www.aacu.org/making-excellence-inclusive)


This can refer to either an action or a state related to being included in a group, program, function, or opportunity. Achieving inclusion requires the intentional use of strategies designed to accomplish that goal. These strategies include those that lead to an active valuing of diversity and pursuit of equity. An inclusive environment is one where each person values the contributions of others and where every person feels that they are valued for their contributions. Inclusion means that every person and every interaction matters.

The AACU indicates that inclusion is “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity...in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.” (https://www.aacu.org/making-excellence-inclusive).

Inclusive Excellence

When diversity, equity, and inclusion are all present, the result is inclusive excellence. Those who value diversity and equity, and strive for inclusion in all aspects of their lives can be said to have an inclusive excellence mindset.

Welcoming Environment

This refers to an environment in which people feel like others want to have them there.


The preferencing of something over something else. We all have bias, and always will. While bias often carries a negative connotation, bias isn’t inherently bad. For example, one might prefer spending time with family to spending time with friends, or spending time in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA to someplace else. Bias, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, has a negative effect when it influences decision-making in a way that gives advantage to some individuals, groups, or courses of action and/or gives disadvantage to others. There are two types of bias that are relevant in the diversity and inclusion space: structural bias and cognitive bias.

Structural bias

Societal patterns or practices that confer advantage to some people and disadvantage to others. These are often patterns or practices that have developed over time and have become part of the mores of a society or community. Statements such as “that’s just how things are done” often point to structural bias. Sometimes policies, procedures, laws, and regulations can institutionalize advantage and disadvantage. When this happens it is referred to as institutional bias. Institutional bias can increase or decrease access to programs, services, and opportunities for education, jobs, or services. It can affect who makes a short-list for a job and who gets promoted. It can affect student, faculty, and staff retention and many other things.

Cognitive bias

This refers to those mental categories and mental schemas that help us make sense of the world and that result in stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs that confer advantage to some and disadvantage to others. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, it is cognitive bias that allows us to do that. A gut feeling about someone or something, either positive or negative, is an attitude that points to cognitive bias. When we make an association between a trait (e.g., secondary sex characteristics) and a group/mental category (e.g., gender) the result is a stereotype. Attitudes and stereotypes are not inherently bad; they help us make sense of the world. They do, however, result in bias that influences decision-making, the results of which can either wittingly or unwittingly provide opportunity or restrict opportunity, confer advantage or disadvantage, etc. Cognitive bias can be either explicit or implicit.

Explicit bias

Cognitive bias that occurs within a person’s conscious awareness. As an example, a researcher may consider research coming out of a particular lab or from a particular university (e.g., their alma mater) as superior to others because of the person’s history with that lab or university or because of the reputation of that lab or university. This preference (bias) is in the person’s cognitive awareness. While there are many benefits to having this bias, the bias may limit the person’s ability to see the high quality research and advancements that may be coming from other places.

Implicit bias

Cognitive bias that is outside of a person’s conscious awareness. Implicit bias functions in the subconscious. This means that the person isn’t aware that it is operating until they bump up against something that helps bring it into their conscious awareness. Implicit bias is shaped by the person’s own experience with the world and by the experiences of others conveyed through messages about the world that are archived in the subconscious mind and that help form mental schemas/mental categories. As it relates to diversity and inclusion, people have subconscious mental schemas about all aspects of diversity including race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, etc. Implicit bias is activated by stimuli in the environment. Although it is subconscious, it has a great deal of influence on a person’s interactions with the world and on decision-making. For example, a person’s experience with people of cultures and countries other than their own can result in implicit bias informed by those experiences (or lack thereof). Consequently, although consciously they may want to be welcoming and inclusive, they may actually say or do things that convey just the opposite. Or, they may interpret behaviors that are designed to be welcoming and inclusive as something other than that.

Blind Spots

Refers to what we don’t see because of implicit bias. We are inundated with so many pieces of information every minute that we can’t process everything. Our minds help us by focusing on certain pieces of information and overlooking others. It is bias, both explicit and implicit, that determines what information we focus on and what information we screen out and consequently don’t see without intentionally looking within that space. Although what is contained within a blind spot is hidden from us, it still influences decision-making subconsciously. When decision-making is about people or situations that affect people, what is in our blind spots could result in decisions that unwittingly lead to discrimination and inequities, and/or messages that could work against our goal of nurturing welcoming and inclusive environments.


Differentiating between people on the basis of group membership rather than individual merit, resulting in unequal treatment and opportunity.

Equal Employment Opportunity

The right of each person to apply and be evaluated for employment opportunities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or disability. It guarantees everyone the right to be considered solely on the basis of his/her ability to perform the duties of the job in question, with or without reasonable accommodations.

Affirmative Action

A legal mandate requiring that aggressive efforts be utilized to employ and advance women and minorities in areas where they are employed in fewer numbers than is consistent with their availability in the relevant labor market. While the State of Nebraska does not have this legal mandate, IANR’s objective is to employ and promote the person who will contribute the most to the job. This includes not only their professional and personal skills and abilities but also their ability to contribute to the diversity of the whole and to increase the opportunities for groups who are underrepresented in the disciplines reflected in IANR. Where candidates for a position appear to be equally well-qualified, the person selected should be the one who will contribute to these goals.

USDA/NIFA Civil Rights Review

The USDA/NIFA requires that all universities accepting federal funding through the Hatch (research) and/or Smith-Lever (Cooperative Extension) funding mechanisms go through a periodic review of their policies and practices related to diversity and inclusion. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s last Civil Rights Review occurred in 2013. The following terms are specific to that review.


When the participation rate in Extension programming of historically underrepresented and underserved populations reflects proportionately with their incidence in the general population of the geographic area being served.


An Extension program is in compliance with participation requirements of the Civil Rights Laws and Regulations when the participation rate of new, diverse, and historically underserved audiences has reached 100% of parity.

Potential Audience/Recipients

Potential audience and recipients of Extension programming are persons or groups within a defined geographic area (county/region) who might be interested in or benefit from an Extension educational program. Potential audience and recipients are estimated for each Extension program by using a combination of census demographic data as well as other knowledge and information about the population of the geographic area being served. When a target audience is defined during program planning, attention is given to be inclusive of the entire potential recipients, as defined by the demographic data and other information.

All Reasonable Effort

Extension must be able to demonstrate that its federally funded programs, services, and activities have been made available to the maximum possible potential audience of a given geographic area. This process entails at least the following activities: a) The use of all available mass media, including radio, television, and newspapers to inform potential recipients of the program and of the opportunity to participate; b) Sending personal letters, e-mail, social media, flyers, and publications, targeted at potential recipients and inviting them to participate, including dates and places of meetings or other planned activities; and c) Personal visits to a representative number of potential recipients in the geographically defined area to encourage them to participate.

Adequate Public Notification

Extension programs should utilize the most diversified means of communication available in order to attract persons of all races, colors, religions, sexes, national origins, and abilities to participate in its programs. Examples include posters, flyers, stuffers, public mailings, bulletin boards, etc. Additionally, all publications should contain the University’s Equal Opportunity Statement and the Extension office environment should visibly display Equal Opportunity posters such as the And Justice for All. Notices of meetings should include the ADA statement.