I recently returned to teaching in the undergraduate biology classroom after 25 years as a university senior administrator. A great deal of my efforts as dean and provost were devoted to university programs aimed at improving diversity, inclusiveness, and equity (DEI) and the retention and graduation rates of students. Despite making these issues a high priority, often with significant investments, progress at my institutions, and in higher education more generally, has been slow.

Why is making improvement in student success and DEI so hard? There are countless reasons, some tied to larger societal issues that universities and schools cannot fix. However, there are some reasons that lie in things we can control, often in our own classrooms. Here I want to discuss the perspective of equality vs. equity teaching.

Equality (also known as fairness) focuses on treating each student equally, perhaps implicitly assuming that all learners enter a class with...

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