February 1 2018 

The Center for Urban Engagement (CUE) will accept students into the recently developed Aequitas Program in Urban Leadership, beginning with the incoming class of 2022. The Aequitas program is a four-year, cohort-based program that will accept 10-20 “Aequitas fellows” every academic year. It is an interdisciplinary program focused on the application of ethics and economics to the unique challenges of urban communities.

“Aequitas” is the Latin concept of “justice” or “equality,” and the origin of the word “equity.” The Aequitas program aims “to promote just, sustainable and flourishing urban communities through academic study, experiential learning, immersion programs and Christian service,” according to the CUE website.

Noah Toly, professor of urban studies and politics & international relations — and now director of the Aequitas Program — was approached by Provost Margaret Diddams early this summer to develop the program after the contribution of an anonymous donor to support urban engagement.

Since then, Toly, along with supporting faculty, staff and trustees, has developed a four-year trajectory for students to accomplish the goals of the program.

The first year begins with the urban track of Passage and is themed “Cities, Society and Service.” During this time students will take classes from Toly and Assistant Professor of Urban Studies Christina Tooley. The second year is titled “Economics and Leadership,” and students will be required to take a sequence of economics courses. Junior year’s theme is “Ethics and Community,” in which students will participate in the Wheaton in Chicago program. During senior year, students will complete the “Capstone and Launch,” in which the Aequitas fellows undertake a group capstone project.

“What the Aequitas program does well is that it also interacts with some pieces that we have also been heavily invested in,” Toly said, citing Wheaton in Chicago and the urban track of Passage. “[It] helps us to be good stewards of the programmatic elements that we already have … while also providing the Aequitas students with key elements of their program that really leverage experience in urban contexts for vocational discernment, leadership development and academic understanding.”

The program is not a major. The credits required are equivalent to those of a minor or certificate program, although the program is distinct from both minors and certificates.

Wheaton College Trustee and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston has been involved in urban engagement for over 30 years, but he told the Record that he has not “seen anything this comprehensive before that also allows students to have a unique major at the same time while they are in the Aequitas program … there was nothing as coordinated and as comprehensive as this. It’s so immersive in so many ways.”

Preston believes the uniqueness of the program comes from its ability to “bring faith, academics and experience all together in a learning place,” allowing students to better understand all the factors in root causes of problems and meet larger systemic needs of cities.

Now that the program has been developed, the next step will be choosing the first cohort of Aequitas fellows.

In the search for applicants, Toly is taking a number of factors into account. Students must be admitted to the college already, have an “outstanding academic record” and “evidence of excellent character and leadership ability.”

Considering goals for the cohort as a whole, Toly wants a “diverse cohort that has men and women, racial and ethnic diversity, preferably domestic and international students, students from multiple majors and students with diverse vocational interests.”

According to Toly, 150 applicants have declared interest for 2018, and the deadline will close Feb. 9.