Diversity & Inclusion: Terms & Definitions

This page contains a list of carefully researched definitions of terms related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that are grouped into conceptual categories. It is by no means a comprehensive list, as language of DEI is continuously evolving. It is intended to serve as a starting point for understanding DEI terms. Please share with your colleagues and teams so we may build a shared understanding of these terms across the college.

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Broad Concepts
Diversity/diverse - Individual differences, (e.g., personality, prior knowledge, and life experiences), group and social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, indigeneity, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, and (dis)ability), historically underrepresented populations, and cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations

Equity/equitable - The creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented populations to have equal access to and participate in educational programs that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion.

Inclusion/inclusive - 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 empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.

Inclusive excellence - It is designed to help colleges and universities integrate diversity, equity, and educational quality efforts into their missions and institutional operations. It calls for higher education to address diversity, inclusion, and equity as critical to the well-being of democratic culture. It is an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning, and engagement in local and global communities.

Climate - Current attitudes, behaviors, and expectations of individuals in the community concerning the access for, inclusion or, and level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities, and potential.

Welcoming environment - An environment in which people feel like others want to have them there.

Sense of belonging - A perception or feeling that one is a part of a group. Belonging is important to individual and group identity. When someone has a sense of belonging, they feel that they have a connection with the people in the group that is greater than familiarity or simple acquaintance.
Our lens for seeing the world
Intersectionality - The interconnected 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. An intersectional lens helps to be mindful of the multiple, complex, and intersecting challenges and privileges that come with a given set of social categorizations.

Bias - To show preference for something over something else. We all have bias, and always will. While bias often carries a negative connotation, bias isn’t inherently bad. For example, one might prefer spending time with family to spending time with friends. Bias, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, has a negative effect when it influences decision-making in a way that gives advantage to some individuals, groups, or courses of action and/or gives disadvantage to others. There are two types of bias that are relevant in the diversity and inclusion space: structural bias and cognitive bias.

Structural bias - Societal patterns or practices that confer advantage to some people and disadvantage to others. These are often patterns or practices that have developed over time and become part of the mores of a society or community. Sometimes policies, procedures, laws, and regulations can institutionalize advantage and disadvantage. When this happens it is referred to as institutional bias. Institutional bias can increase or decrease access to programs, services, and opportunities for education or jobs. It can affect who makes a short-list for a job and who gets promoted, or student, faculty, and staff retention; student graduation rates, and many other things.

Cognitive bias - Mental categories and mental schemas that help us make sense of the world, and that result in stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs that confer advantage to some and disadvantage to others. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, it is cognitive bias that allows us to do that. A gut feeling about someone or something, either positive or negative, is an attitude that points to cognitive bias. When we make an association between a trait (e.g., secondary sex characteristics) and a group/mental category (e.g., gender) the result is a stereotype. Attitudes and stereotypes are not inherently bad; they help us make sense of the world. They do, however, result in bias that influences decision-making, the results of which that can either wittingly or unwittingly provide opportunity or restrict opportunity, confer advantage or disadvantage, etc. Cognitive bias can be either explicit or implicit.

Explicit bias - Cognitive bias that occurs within a person’s conscious awareness. For example, a researcher may consider research from a particular lab or from a particular university (e.g., their alma mater) as superior to others because of the person’s history with that lab or university or because of the reputation of that lab or university. This preference (bias) is in the person’s cognitive awareness. While there are many benefits to having this bias, the bias may limit the person’s ability to see the high quality research and advancements that may be coming from other places.

Implicit bias - Cognitive bias outside of a person’s conscious awareness. A person isn’t aware of implicit bias until they "bump" against something that helps bring it into their conscious awareness. Implicit bias is shaped by the person’s own experience with the world and by the experiences of others conveyed through messages about the world that help form mental schemas/mental categories. As it relates to diversity and inclusion, people have subconscious mental schemas about all aspects of diversity, including race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, etc. Although it is subconscious, it has a great deal of influence on person’s interactions with the world and on decision-making. For example, a person’s experience with people of cultures and countries other than their own can result in implicit bias informed by those experiences (or lack thereof). Consequently, although consciously they may want to be welcoming and inclusive, they may actually say or do things that convey just the opposite. Or, they may interpret behaviors that are designed to be welcoming and inclusive as something other than that.

Blind spots - What we don’t see because of implicit bias. We are inundated with so many pieces of information every minute that we can’t process everything. Our minds help us by focusing on certain pieces of information and overlooking others. It is bias, both explicit and implicit, that determines what information we focus on and what information we screen out and consequently don’t see without intentionally looking within that space. Although what is contained within a blind spot is hidden from us, it still influences decision-making although subconsciously. When making decisions, our blind spots can unwittingly lead to discrimination and inequities, and/or messages that work against our goal of nurturing welcoming and inclusive environments.
Neurodiversity - Umbrella term referring to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions.

Neurodivergent - Term used to describe people having an atypical neurological configuration. This includes autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, developmental disorders, learning disabilities, and mental health conditions.

Neurotypical - Neurotypical is the related term used to describe people whose neurological development and state are typical; used as an opposite to neurodivergent.
Disability & Accessibility
Disability - A physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities

Accessibility - The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights defines accessibility as, "when a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use." Accessibility applies to physical spaces, learning materials, learning activities, and more.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) - a framework for improving and optimizing teaching for all individuals that is grounded in learning science and focuses on accessibility
Ableist/Ableism - Discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.

Classist/Classism - A bias based on social or economic class.

Sexist/Sexism - Discrimination or prejudice against people based on sex, predominantly aimed at women.

Heterosexism - Attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships.

Racist/Racism - Discrimination or prejudice against people based on race, predominantly aimed at people of color.

Systemic/Institutional racism - A form of racism that is embedded at a systems level, as normal practice within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, and education, among other issues. Thinking about systemic racism involves taking in the big picture of how an institution operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions.
Race & Ethnicity
People of Color (POC) - People who self-identify as other than White.

BIPOC - Acronym meaning Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Anti-racist - Beyond being not racist. Being anti-racist involves actively combating racism and working towards dismantling systems of oppression.

Ethnocentric - Judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion.
Gender inclusivity
Gender Identity - A person’s inner sense of being man, woman, both, or neither. The internal identity may or may not be expressed outwardly (gender expression), and may or may not correspond to one’s physical characteristics.

Gender binary - A system that constructs gender according to two discrete and opposite categories: boy/man and girl/woman.

Nonbinary - Those who do not identify along the gender binary. They might exist between or beyond the man-woman binary. Some use the term exclusively, while others may use it interchangeably with other terms like genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, gender diverse, or gender expansive.

Gender Nonconforming - Those who do not follow gender stereotypes. Often an umbrella for nonbinary genders.

Pronouns - The words used to refer to a person other than their name. Common pronouns are they/them, he/him, and she/her. Some individuals use a combination of pronouns (e.g., she/they), and pronouns are sometimes presented with the possessive form (e.g., they/them/theirs).

Cisnormativity/Cisnormative - The assumption that everyone is cisgender and that being cisgender is superior to all other genders. This includes the often implicitly held idea that being cisgender is the norm and that other genders are “different” or “abnormal.”
LGBTQ+ - An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). The “+” represents those who are part of the community, but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity.

Lesbian - Refers to a woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to other women. Lesbian is the “L” in the acronym LGBT and its expanded forms.

Gay - A term used to describe people who are emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender (e.g., gay man, gay people). In contemporary contexts, lesbian is often a preferred term for women, though many women use the term gay to describe themselves. Gay is the “G” in the acronym LGBT and its expanded forms.

Bisexual - Commonly referred to as bi or bi+. The term refers to a person who acknowledges in themselves the potential to be attracted--romantically, emotionally and/or sexually--to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or in the same degree. Bisexual is the “B” in the acronym LGBT and its expanded forms.

Transgender - A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth. This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression—such groups include, but are not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous. Transgender is the “T” in the acronym LGBT and its expanded forms.

Queer - A term used by some LGBTQ+ people to describe themselves and/or their community. Reclaimed from its earlier negative use—and valued by some for its defiance—the term is also considered by some to be inclusive of the entire community, and by others who find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. Traditionally a negative or pejorative term for people who are LGBTQ+, some people within the community dislike the term. Due to its varying meanings, use this word only when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as queer. Queer is typically the “Q” in the acronym LGBTQ and its expanded forms.

Questioning - Describes those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or a combination thereof. Questioning people can be of any age, so for many reasons, this may happen later in life. Questioning is a profoundly important process, and one that does not imply that someone is choosing to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. Questioning is sometimes the “Q” in the acronym LGBTQ and its expanded forms.

Intersex - A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Intersex is the “I” in the expanded acronym LGBTQIA.

Asexual - A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of an individual. Asexual is sometimes the “A” in the expanded acronym LGBTQIA.

Ally - A person not part of a marginalized and/or underrepresented community who supports that community and works alongside its members to advance its causes. Ally is sometimes the “A” in the expanded acronym LGBTQIA.

Pansexual - Often referred to as “Pan”, this is a term used to describe a person who is sexually, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity. 

Cisgender - A term used to refer to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the one associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Heteronormativity/Heteronormative - The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.
Hostile behaviors
Harassment - Unwelcomed behavior that demeans, threatens or offends another person or group of people and results in a hostile environment for the targeted person/group.

Discrimination - The treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit. Discrimination can be the effect of some policy or practice that confers privileges based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), genetic information (including family medical history), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual identity, citizenship, or service in the uniformed services.

Assault - Any intentional act that causes another person physical harm, causes another person to fear that they are about to suffer physical harm, or involves unwanted physical contact. 
Types of discrimination
Biphobia - An irrational dislike or fear of bisexual people. Biphobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred.

Homophobia - An irrational dislike or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. Homophobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred.

Transphobia - An irrational dislike or fear of transgender people. Transphobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred.

Xenophobia - An irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. Xenophobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred.

Islamophobia - An irrational dislike or fear of Muslims or Islam. Islamophobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred.
Note: The terms and definitions on the page were compiled from a variety of sources including the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, IANR, and PFLAG.

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