Targeted Universalism


February 08, 2017

Targeted Universalism is a different way—a powerful way—to make the transformational changes we need. Changes we need to improve life chances, promote inclusion, and enhance and sustain equitable policies and programs. To better understand a targeted universalism framework, please enjoy this brief animated video, which explains the difference between targeted universalism and more traditional policy approaches. 




Video Transcript

What is the most effective and sustainable policy response to problems in our society?

Universal approaches are widely used in order to package policies for broad appeal. Universal policies such as Social Security and minimum wage laws provide the same benefits or minimum protections to everyone regardless of status or group membership.

But by treating everyone the same Universal approaches can't root out group-based discrimination and may actually deepen inequality between groups rather than reduce it. And by providing benefits or protections to everyone, resources that could be targeted to groups worse off instead flow to those who are better off. 

In contrast to universalism, targeted approaches are commonly used. Targeted policies provide benefits or protections based on group membership or status. Snap, the food stamp program, conditions benefits on income level.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public accessibility for disabled groups and affirmative action focuses on historically disadvantaged groups.

Targeted approaches are vulnerable to the critique that they unfairly favor constituent groups over the public good by directing resources to marginalized groups who are already subjected to unfair stereotypes, but Universal and targeted approaches are false choices.

There is a third way: Targeted Universalism.

Targeted Universalism means setting universal goals that can be achieved through targeted approaches. This approach targets the varying needs of each group while reminding us that we are all part of the same social fabric.

This can be accomplished by following these five steps: First, set a universal goal. For example 100 percent proficiency in eighth grade math.

Second, measure how the overall population fares relative to the universal goal. In this example we might discover that only 80% of eighth graders are proficient in eighth grade math.

Third, measure the performance of population segments relative to the universal goal.

So although 80% of all eighth graders are proficient we might find that only 70% of Latinos are proficient. Fourth understand how structures and other factors support or impede groups progress toward the universal goal.

For our Latino students classroom instruction materials and lessons designed for English speakers may impede learning including math proficiency.

Finally implement targeted strategies so that each group can achieve the universal goal based upon their needs and circumstances.

This may take the form of ESL-specific math tutoring for our Latino students while another group may require a completely different strategy to achieve the same universal goal.

Targeted Universalism rejects a blanket universal, which may be indifferent to the reality that different groups are situated differently relative to the institution's and resources of society by aspiring toward shared universal goals.

Targeted Universalism empowers targeted strategies capable of achieving those goals while moving us beyondconcerns over disparities alone and toward our highest aspirations for all.