Recognizing Embodied Equity

We often discuss the idea of inequity as something occurring in the social interactions between people, focusing less on the physical ways inequity operates. We discuss the importance of considering bodily aftereffects of oppression, the many ways that inequity becomes embodied in higher education, and how we can begin to address these issues in our day-to-day work.

Reflect: Reframing Equity through the Body

Why does the body matter when it comes to discussing equity? Aside from the ways that the body can be a direct target of discrimination and oppression, discrimination and oppression can also indirectly affect the body and deteriorate the health of marginalized people. Marginalized groups who experience inequity and discrimination often deal with negative physical health outcomes as a result,1,2 from creating predisposition for a variety of conditions to detrimental effects on critical organs such as the heart; this propensity for poor physical health from discrimination permeates all marginalized communities, from Communities of Color,3,4,5 LGBTQ+ people,6,7 women,8,9 and beyond. What happens when we don’t consider the bodily effects of inequity and oppression? How are these bodily effects and experiences different between marginalized communities? In what way can we disrupt the bodily burden of discrimination?

Learn: Thinking through Embodied Inequity in Higher Education

Embodied inequity affects higher education in numerous ways. Latent sexism creates working environments that are tuned to the needs of men. For example, thermostats are regularly set to men’s bodily preferences which differ from and create discomfort for women.10 This compounds with other existing concerns of policy/support for women who are pregnant and women grappling with menopause/menstrual issues.11,12 Racism also shapes physical experiences of higher education, such as standards of professionalism that exclude Black hair13 or the policing of Black people’s presence on campus.14 Accessibility for disabled people in higher education is a long-standing issue, with the construction of campuses limiting physically disabled students’ access15 or educational materials excluding the needs of people with sensory disabilities (e.g., blind, deaf).16 Fatphobia (or “weight stigma”) in higher education marginalizes fat people by perpetuating idealized body sizes (as a replacement for “health”) in the build of furniture/physical space, the creation of staff uniforms, and practices such as weight tracking competitions.17,18 Embodied inequity can become further complicated for those at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.


  • Discussion questions: How often have you considered inequity as an embodied phenomenon? What other ways does oppression target the body? How does underrepresentation relate to embodied inequity? Are there other issues of inequity that are not physical in nature but contribute to embodied inequity? What will it take to strive toward embodied equity?
  • Address your physical spaces/structures:As we discussed, accessibility is an issue that faces many marginalized groups. Is your office easily accessible for people with physical disabilities? If you’re selecting a venue to host an event, is it inclusive for those in recovery? How does the size of the space have implications for those who are immunocompromised and cannot collectively gather in the same way as other people? Even if you do not have control over the physical space, consider advocating for accessibility with those who do control the physical space. Seek out ways to overcome built-in inequity with intentional accommodations and go the extra step to support the needs of all around.
  • Update your policies and practices: One of the easiest ways that inequity can be perpetuated “under our noses” is through the use of policy to justify bias and exclusion. Reconsider the actual effects of the policies and practices that shape how people navigate and work in your immediate sphere of influence. For example, are your expectations about dress including those whose presentation doesn’t follow the gender binary? Excluding Black hair styles? Including plus sizes for uniforms or t-shirts? Many common practices also contribute to bodily inequity. Rather than ignorantly creating materials (e.g., lessons, pamphlets, etc.) without concern for accessibility go the extra step to make sure that you structure them in ways that increase accessibility, especially for those with sensory disabilities.

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