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This glossary provides a brief introduction to several key terms that are often a part of discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is not comprehensive and is a living document that will be updated as knowledge in the field evolves. There are many perspectives the meanings and use of all the words below and we encourage everyone to continue their own learning beyond this introduction. This glossary is intended to support efforts to increase the use of inclusive language or the approach that recognized the power of words, aiming to avoid terminology or language that could potentially exclude or cause harm. We also acknowledge the limits of language and problematic ways in which many terms enforce binary and static identities and structures. Several important reminders about the principles behind inclusive language are:

  1. Bias and linguistic habits: We all have conscious and unconscious biases and embedded beliefs in stereotypes that lead us to use language that is inappropriate – the good news is we can change!
  2. People Centric: Language should not rely on stereotypes or broad classifications of people. Rather we should focus on the importance and value of individual differences and avoid words that disempower people and communities.
  3. Self-Identification: It is important to pay attention to how people talk about themselves and mirror that language in our communication with them. If you don’t know something — ask!
  4. Impact over intent: Mistakes are inevitable even when you are trying to improve. However, good intentions do not outweigh harm. It is important to actively repair harm, take responsibility for errors, and move forward by changing behavior or language.
  5. Naming oppression: Naming and centering the active nature of oppression and its perpetrators acknowledges the historical and systemic nature of white supremacy, patriarchy, and other inhumane ideologies (e.g., say minoritized rather than minorities).
  6. Context matters: Communicative choices should always consider the importance of context. If you are quoting data, quote the language used in the source. Pay attention to community norms and remember there is rarely consensus on terminology.

Sample Key Terms

Accessibility is the degree to which a person can participate in an activity or use a product, technology, or navigate an environment across various abilities and disabilities.

Affirmative action refers broadly to policies and/or programs that seek to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity. These policies are not incidents of preferential treatment for minoritized groups or reverse racism.

Anti-racism involves practices (thoughts, actions, policies, etc.) that intentionally seek to counter and eliminate harm caused by racism and create racial equity.

BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. This term aims to center the specific violent and colonial histories for Black and Indigenous communities in the United States. It is calling out a particular relationship to whiteness that is often erased with umbrella terms like People of Color.

Culturally responsive pedagogy approaches teaching with recognition the importance of the importance of cultural difference to students’ educational experiences. Instructors who incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy will include students’ cultural references in all areas of learning and promote equity and inclusion in the classroom.

Critical Race Theory began in legal studies in the 1970s as a way to understand and transform the ways in which race and racism operate structurally and systemically in the United States. Today CRT is used across a variety of disciplines and social movements.  

Deficit language or the language of deficiency leads to victim blaming terminology. These words often highlight individual’s rather than systems and structures that have led to marginalization. Examples include referring to students as at-risk or underprepared rather than underserved.

Diversity includes all the ways in which people are different. It is a term that looks at the composition of a group, but should not be applied individuals. For example, you may have a diverse student body or a faculty that is lacking in diversity, but individuals are not diverse (“This job candidate is diverse.”). You can also ask, what does diversity look like as you go up the ladder in the organization?

Equity refers to fairness. However, equity differs from equality in that it does not mean treating everyone the same. Equity can require an unequal response in order for fairness or justice to be achieved. To do so, structural and historical oppression has to be taken into account.

Equity minded approaches refers to ways faculty, staff, and other professionals examine patterns of inequity and advocate for changes that will increase access to similar outcomes across diverse populations.

Gender describes a set of characteristics that traditionally have been associated with binary biological differences associated with men/masculinity and women/femininity. It is as social construct that is connected to cultural and societal norms and now is understood to include a spectrum of gender identities.

Inclusion is about an authentic space of belonging. Intentional inclusion efforts go beyond ensuring the presence of difference (diversity) to disrupting the status quo so that people can truly participate in meaningful ways.

People of Color (POC) is a term that has actually been around for hundreds of years, but regained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is an umbrella term for non-white communities and individuals.

Implicit bias describes the unconscious associations we hold about groups of people or individuals from a particular identity. This often leads to cognitive short cuts like relying on stereotypes or taken for granted assumptions.

Intersectionality is a framework that acknowledges the ways identities and oppressions intersect creating a fundamentally different lived experience. For example, the ways patriarchy or sexism interacts with racism creates multiple forms of discrimination and injustice for Black women.

Latinx/Latine is a contested gender neutral term sometimes used in place of Latino to describe a group of people of Latin American descent.

LGBTQIA: An umbrella acronym meant to be inclusive of many identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (often shortened to LGBTQ or LGBTQ+)

Microaggressions: Comments, questions, actions and/or nonverbal behaviors that are subtly and sometimes unintentionally offensive or demeaning to a member of a minoritized or marginalized group.

Minoritized is a word that is generally preferred in place of minority. While the word minority may literally mean less than half of a group, or a smaller part of a larger group, the connotation is related to being “lesser than.” Minoritized reflects the systemic and structural realities in place that push people and communities to the margins.

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that acknowledges there are many neurological and cognitive differences in people as part of human variation. Examples include autism or Attention Deficit Disorder.

Personal pronouns are the pronouns an individual uses to refer to their gender identity or expression. (e.g. she/her, he/him, they/their) The use of pronouns in spaces like email signatures, zoom names, and business cards normalizes the practice of learning how to refer to folks based on their self-identification.

Power is typically defined as “power over others,” or the ability to coerce another’s behavior, but it also includes access to social, political, and economic resources. Power typically accrues to those who most closely approximate the mythical norm—in the U.S., for example, that means male, White, heterosexual, able-bodied, and Christian.

Privilege is unearned advantages that can operate on a personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional level. It is characteristically invisible to people who have it (members of the group that has institutional or structural power).

Racism involves both individual attitudes and actions (e.g., beliefs of racial superiority, using racial slurs) and structural and systemic conditions and practices that reproduce inequalities along racial lines. Racism is also an ideology of racial domination (e.g., White supremacy and White nationalism). It is important to remember that racism is more about impact than intentions.