What does it mean to be a Learning Advocate?
Exploring why racial justice and equity matters
You and your audiences are less practiced in talking about racial disparities in education, but you can learn alongside one another.
The way you frame your message—the first words and ideas that you share—will set the tone. Begin by speaking to the shared value of opportunity and how injustice and inequity are attacks on real opportunity. Use affirming language to describe the people whom you support, and talk about their educational and career aspirations.
Frame people by their assets.
Describing people by their aspirations and contributions encourages empathy and respect. This approach can reduce the sense of “otherness” that occurs when describing people only by their racial, ethnic, and income characteristics.
Get beyond buzzwords.
Paint a picture of terms such as “equity” by showing how students’ goals are expressed in their lives and how these goals, once realized, shape their experiences.
Highlight the shared benefits of achieving racial justice and equity.
To overcome zero-sum thinking (you win, I lose), show how achieving just and fair outcomes can help increase opportunity for all.
Take things a step further with the racial justice and equity frame.
What is message framing?
The first thing that you say about a topic influences the judgments and perceptions of listeners. When talking about racial justice and equity in different forums with different audiences, first frame these concepts: Introduce the big ideas that will motivate people to pay attention to and support efforts to bring about fair and just results.
A frame can be adapted to different situations while building on the same core ideas. It reinforces these concepts in ways that you can tailor for your audience. National research shows the frame below can help you communicate about racial justice and equity in ways that are motivating and meaningful.
What are the big ideas in the racial justice and equity frame?
Audiences of all kinds understand and value “opportunity.” But to get beyond the buzzword, you must show what real opportunity looks like, what’s getting in the way, and how we can achieve measurable positive outcomes.
- Everyone has a right to real opportunity. No matter where you come from, what you look like, or how much money your family has, you should have what you need to learn, grow, and thrive.
- Opportunity isn’t equal. Opportunity depends on who you are and where you come from.
- Our systems of education and training after high school unfairly hold some people back. Policies, practices, and beliefs—rooted in history and still affecting people today—keep many Black, Native American, and Hispanic people from the education and skills they need.
- Real actions with real outcomes make opportunity real for all. We must remove barriers for students to right wrongs and achieve just and fair outcomes for everyone.
How do I tell stories about racial justice and equity?
Storytelling is one of the best ways to make the concepts of racial justice and equity real for audiences. You can use this frame to craft strategic stories that inspire people to take action.
- Put people in the picture. Start with protagonists and their aspirational goals of real opportunity.
- Identify the problem. Make visible the systemic barriers to achieving those goals.
- Show solutions that emerge. Introduce real actions—specific solutions that directly respond to the barriers and challenges.
- Celebrate the breakthroughs. Show how lives are changed in real, measurable ways.
- Illustrate the effects. Show how the protagonist’s journey helps society as a whole, making opportunity real for others.
How can I use data to help make my case?
Data and evidence can open people’s eyes to the systemic problems that students and the country face. Here are tips for using data without perpetuating negative stereotypes or making the realization of racial justice and equity seem too daunting.
- Share data that show what’s needed. Share data about the careers, pay, or lives that degrees or other credentials can lead to.
- Measure racial disparities against a universal goal. Show how outcomes among students of different races or ethnicities are measuring up against a universal goal, rather than measuring the “gap” between people of color and white people. Comparing educational outcomes of other races to white students can perpetuate white outcomes as the “default” and can unintentionally shift blame to individual students for “not working hard enough.”
- Shine a light on racial disparities in learning systems. Rather than pointing out “achievement gaps” among students from different demographic groups, point out structural barriers within systems. For example, use data to reveal stark differences between the amount and quality of the services that students of color and other students receive–and how unfairly distributed resources disproportionately and unfairly hold them back.
- Point to measurable examples of success. Show what’s possible for people when schools, states, or education systems take concrete action. Show before-and-after data or contrast educational outcomes among places where systems are changing and where they are not.
Download the full Message Manual for examples of messages, data, and stories inspired by the racial justice and equity frame.