Diversity & Inclusion Key Terms & Definitions

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Diversity & Inclusion Key Terms & Definitions

There may be many definitions of the words or phrases below, but the definitions provided indicate how the Strategic Inclusion Committee has defined them for the purposes of this document.


  • Ableism – Discrimination, prejudice and/or bias toward an individual based on physical ability or lack thereof.

    Accessibility – Refers to the intentional design or redesign of technology, policies, products and services (to name a few) that increase ones' ability to use, access and obtain the respective item.

    Accommodation – The process of adapting or adjusting to someone or something. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are normally done that allows an individual with a disability to enjoy equitable access.

    Advocate – A person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others and support social equity for a marginalized group; to actively support or plea in favor of a particular cause, the action of working to end intolerance or educate others. 

    Affirmative Action – A set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination and prevent such discrimination in the future. 

    Agender – A person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender

    Ally – Someone who possesses the power and privilege (based on ethnicity, class, gender, sexual identity, etc.) who stands in solidarity with and is supportive of marginalized groups and communities.

    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Enacted in 1990, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits the discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life – employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications and miscellaneous provisions.

    Androgyny – Someone who reflects an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, or who appears to be neither a or both a boy and a girl.

    Asexual – Refers to a person who does not experience sexual attraction or has little interest in sexual activity.

    Assimilation – The gradual process by which a person or group belonging to one culture adopts the practices of another, thereby becoming a member of that culture. Assimilation can be voluntary or forced.

  • Bias – A bias is a tendency, inclination or prejudice toward or against something or someone that often results in unfair or inequitable treatment.

    Bicurious – A curiosity toward experiencing attraction to people of the same gender/sex (similar to questioning).

    Bisexual – A person who experiences attraction to some men and women or identifies as experiencing an attraction to people of varying genders.

    Blind – A term most frequently used to describe a severe vision loss. Either blind or low vision are acceptable terms to describe all degrees of vision loss.

  • Cisgender – A gender description for when someone's sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can be shortened to "cis."

    Civil Rights Act of 1964 – A monumental act of Civil Rights Movement that outlawed segregation and employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

    Civil Union – A relationship between a couple that is legally recognized by a governmental authority and has many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

    Classism – Any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition.

    Collusion – When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression.

    Critical Race Theory – A framework or set of basic perspectives, methods and pedagogy that seeks to identify, analyze and transform those structural and cultural aspects of society that maintain the subordination and marginalization of People of Color.

    Cultural Competence – The knowledge, skills and ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures.

    Culture – Cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience.

  • Denial – Refusal to acknowledge the societal privileges that are granted or denied based on an individual's ethnicity or other grouping.

    Disability - A functional limitation that affects an individual's ability to perform certain functions.

    Disability (ADA) – A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person's association with a person with a disability.

    Discrimination – Behavior that treats people unequally because of their group memberships. Discriminatory behavior, ranging from slights to hate crimes, often begins with negative stereotypes and prejudices.

    Diversity – The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic statues, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies.

  • Equity – The proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all. 

    Equity (campus context) – The creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented population to have equal access to and participate in education programs that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion.  

    Ethnicity – A dynamic set of historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices that (1) allows people to identify or to be identified with groupings of people on the basis of presumed (and usually claimed) commonalities including language, history, nation or region of origin, customs, ways of being, religion, names, physical appearance and/or genealogy or ancestry; (2) can be a source of meaning, action and identity; and (3) confers a sense of belonging, pride and motivation.

    Ethnocentrism – The emotional attitude that one's own race, nation or culture is superior to all others.

  • Fluid(ity) – Generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that may change or shift over time between or within the mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, bi and straight).

    FTM/F2M – Abbreviation for a female-to-male transgender or transsexual person.

  • Gender – Refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ.

    Gender Diversity – Refers to the extent to which a person's gender identity, role or expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex.

    Gender Fluid  A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations.

    Gender Identity – Refers to a person's internal sense of being male, female or something else.

    Gender-Neutral/Gender-Inclusive – Inclusive language to describe relationships (spouse and partner instead of husband/boyfriend and wife/girlfriend), spaces (gender-neutral/inclusive restrooms are for use by all genders), pronouns (they and ze are gender neutral/inclusive pronouns) among other things.

    Gender Non-Conforming – An adjective and umbrella term to describe individuals whose gender expression, gender identity or gender role differs from gender norms associated with their assigned birth sex.

    Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender-based expectations of society. Also referred to as gender straight.

    Gender Role – Refers to a pattern of appearance, personality and behavior that, in a given culture, is associated with being a boy/man/male or being a girl/woman/female.

    Glass Ceiling – Barriers, either real or perceived, that affect the promotion or hiring of protected group members.

  • Heteronormativity – The societal assumption and norm that all people are heterosexual. The basic civil right and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives that are systematically denied to gay, lesbian or bisexual persons, simply because of their sexual orientation.

    Heterosexism – The belief or assumption that everyone is, or should be heterosexual; the idea that being heteronormative is normal, natural and healthy, and all other people are somehow unnatural, abnormal and unhealthy.

    Heterosexual – A male whose sexual orientation is toward females or a female whose sexual orientation is toward males. Also referred to as straight.

    Homosexual – A male whose sexual orientation is toward other men or a female whose sexual orientation is toward females. Homosexual males typically prefer the term gay, and homosexual females typically prefer the term lesbian.

  • Identity Sphere – The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without weighing any one expression as better than another.

    Immigrant – An alien who has been granted the right by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States. Also known as a lawful permanent resident.

    Immigration – The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country. 

    Implicit Bias – Also known as unconscious or hidden bias, implicit biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness.

    Inclusion – Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.

    Inclusion (Campus Context) – Defined as the active, intentional and ongoing engagement with diversity - in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect - in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication and emphatic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.

    Inclusive Excellence – The recognition that a community or institution's success is dependent on how well it values, engages and includes the rich diversity of students, staff, faculty, administrators and alumni constituents.

    Intersectionality – A feminist sociological theory, intersectionality is the intersected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

    Invisible Minority – A group whose minority status is not always immediately visible, such as some disabled people and LGBTIQ people. This lack of visibility may make organizing for rights difficult.

    'ism's' – A way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure that subordinates (oppresses) a person or group because of their target group, color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), religion (e.g., anti-Semitism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), etc.

  • Learning Communities – A group of people actively engaged in learning together and learning from each other to explore common themes and encourage partnerships with professors and peers.

    LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIAA – Acronyms referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, ally, asexual, intersex and questioning.

  • Microaggression – Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious slights and insults to the target person or group. 

    MTF/M2F – Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.

  • Oppression (Institutionalized) – Systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group supported and enforced by the society and its institution, solely based on the person's membership in the social identity group.

    Oppression (Internalized) – The manner in which members of an oppressed group come to internalize the oppressive attitudes of others toward themselves and those like them.  

  • Pansexual – A term most commonly used in the world outside academia as a sexual identity (and sexual orientation) term similar to bisexuality, but more inclusive of trans people. It also shows an awareness of the implied gender binary in the term bisexual. 

    People-/Person-First Language – A way of describing disability that involves putting the word person or people before the word disability or the name of a disability, rather than placing the disability first and using it as an adjective. Some examples of people-first language might include saying "person with a disability," "woman with cerebral palsy" and "man with an intellectual disability." The purpose of people-first language is to promote the idea that someone's disability label is just a disability label, not the defining characteristic of the entire individual.  

    Permanent Resident – Any person not a citizen of the United States who is residing in the U.S. under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence as an immigrant. Also known as permanent resident alien, resident alien permit holder and green card holder.  

    Pluralism – A situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc., are together in a society but continue to have their different traditions and interests.

    Prejudice – An opinion, prejudgment or attitude about a group or its individual members. A prejudice can be positive, but usually refers to a negative attitude. Prejudices are often accompanied by ignorance, fear or hatred. Prejudices are formed by a complex psychological process that begins with attachment to a close circle of acquaintances or an in-group such as a family. Prejudice is often aimed at out-groups.  

    Privilege – A special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

    Privilege (Heterosexual) – Those benefits derived automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity. 

    Privilege (White) – Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

  • Queer – An umbrella term that individuals may use to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to dominant societal norms.

    Questioning – An identity label for a person who is exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and is in a state of moratorium in terms of identity formation.

  • Race – A dynamic set of historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices that (1) sorts people into ethnic groups according to perceived physical and behavioral human characteristics; (2) associates differential value, power and privilege with these characteristics and establishes a social status ranking among the different groups; and (3) emerges (a) when groups are perceived to pose a threat (political, economic or cultural) to each other's world of view or way of life; and/or (b) to justify the denigration and exploitation (past, current or future) of, and prejudice toward, other groups.

    Racial and Ethnic Identity – An individual's awareness and experience of being a member of racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe him or herself based on such factors as biological heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, earl socialization and personal experience.

    Racism (Cultural) – Refers to representation, messages and stories conveying the idea that behaviors and values associated with white people or whiteness are automatically better or more normal than those associated with other racially defined groups.

    Reasonable Accommodation – Any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in the employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.

    Refugee – Generally, any person outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on the person's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

  • Safe Space – A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age or physical  or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.

    Sexism – A system of beliefs or attitudes which relegates women to limited roles an/or options because of their sex.

    Sex Assignment – The initial categorization of an infant as male or female.

    Sexual Identity – How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between, beyond or neither.

    Sizeism – The mistreatment of or discrimination against people based upon their perceived (or self-perceived) body size or shape.

    Social Justice – Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole.

    Stereotype – An exaggerated belief, image or distorted truth about a person or group - a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences or social variation. Stereotypes are based on images in mass media, or reputations passed on by parents, peers and other members of society. Stereotypes can be positive or negative.

  • Transgender – An umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Trans is sometimes used as a shorthand for transgender. Not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person.

    Transition – A complicated, multi-step process that can take years as transgender people align their anatomy with their sex identity and/or their gender expression with their gender identity.

    Transsexual – A term that refers to people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex. Often, transsexual people alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones, surgery and other means to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their gender identities.

  • Underutilization – The condition of having fewer protected group members in a particular job classification than would be reasonably expected by their availability in the labor force.

    Unisex – Clothing, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, relationships, etc., which are considered appropriate for members of any gender/sex.

    Universal Design – The process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the wildest possible range of situation; whereas accessibility primarily refers to design for people with disabilities. 

  • White Supremacy – An historically-based, institutionally-perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and people of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

  • Xenophobia – A culturally based fear of outsiders. It has often been associated with the hostile reception given to those who immigrate into societies and communities. It could result from a genuine fear of strangers, or it could be based on things such as competition for jobs, or ethnic, racial or religious prejudice.

  • Ze – Gender neutral pronoun that can be used instead of he/she.

    Zir – Gender neutral pronoun that can be used instead of his/her.

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