Glossary of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Terms

This glossary has been compiled to provide a common vocabulary within our community. We believe doing so will help avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Words can hold different meanings based on one’s live experience. By finding a common language, we hope to promote dialogue around equity, inclusion, and belonging.

This is not an exhaustive list and is not meant to be. As language evolves, so too will this list. Community input is greatly appreciated. Please contact with any suggested revisions you may have.

AAPI: An acronym that stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. The term is used to describe a diverse and fast-growing population that include roughly 50 ethnic groups with roots in more than 40 countries. This includes all people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.

Accessibility: The extent to which a facility is readily approachable and usable by individuals with disabilities, particularly such areas as residences, classrooms, and public areas.

Accomplice(s): The actions of an accomplice are meant to directly challenge institutionalized racism, colonization, and white supremacy by blocking or impeding racist people, policies and structures.

Acculturation: The general phenomenon of persons learning the nuances of or being initiated into a culture. It may also carry a negative connotation when referring to the attempt by dominant cultural groups to acculturate members of other cultural groups into the dominant culture in an assimilation fashion.

Advocate: Someone who speaks up for themselves and members of their identity group; e.g. a person who lobbies for equal pay for a specific group.

African American Vernacular English (AAVE): This term describes a dialect of American English characterized by pronunciations and vocabulary uniquely spoken in African American communities. It stems from a variation of African, British English and Caribbean Creole English dialects.

Agent: The perpetrator of oppression and/or discrimination; usually a member of the dominant, non‐target identity group.

Ally: Someone who supports a group other than one’s own (in terms of multiple identities such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.). An ally acknowledges oppression and actively commits to reducing their own complicity, investing in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.

Anti-Racist: Being critically aware of the existence of racism and understanding how it is systemic. An anti-racist person actively seeks to acknowledge the impacts of racism.

Assigned Sex: What a doctor determines to be your physical sex based on the appearance of one's primary sex characteristics at birth.

Assimilation: A process by which outsiders (persons who are others by virtue of cultural heritage, gender, age, religious background, and so forth) are brought into, or made to take on the existing identity of the group into which they are being assimilated. The term has had a negative connotation in recent educational literature, imposing coercion and a failure to recognize and value diversity. It is also understood as a survival technique for individuals or groups.

Belonging: A sense of being secure, recognized, affirmed, and accepted equally such that full participation is possible.

Bias: A form of prejudice that results from our need to quickly classify individuals into categories.

Bigot: A person who is obstinately devoted to their own opinions and prejudices and is intolerant towards other diverse social groups.

BIPOC: An acronym used to refer to black, Indigenous and people of color. It is based on the recognition of collective experiences of systemic racism. As with any other identity term, it is up to individuals to use this term as an identifier.

Brave Space: Honors and invites full engagement from folks who are vulnerable while also setting the expectation that there could be an oppressive moment that the facilitator and allies have a responsibility to address.

Cisgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior aligns with those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.

Code-switching: The conscious or unconscious act of altering one's communication style and/or appearance depending on the specific situation of who one is speaking to, what is being discussed, and the relationship and power and/or community dynamics between those involved. Often members of the non-dominant group code-switch to minimize the impact of bias from the dominant group.

Color-Blind Racial Ideology: The attitude that people should be treated as equally as possible, without regard to race or ethnicity. Though seemingly equitable, it tends to overlook the importance of people's cultures and the manifestations of racism in policy or institutions.

Conscious Bias (Explicit Bias): Refers to the attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level. Much of the time, these biases and their expression arise as the direct result of a perceived threat. When people feel threatened, they are more likely to draw group boundaries to distinguish themselves from others.

Critical Race Theory (CRT): Critical race theory in education challenges the dominant discourse on race and racism as they relate to education by examining how educational theory, policy, and practice are used to subordinate certain racial and ethnic groups. There are at least five themes that form the basic perspectives, research methods, and pedagogy of critical race theory in education:

  1. The centrality and intersectionality of race and racism
  2. The challenge to dominant ideology
  3. The commitment to social justice
  4. The centrality of experiential knowledge
  5. The interdisciplinary perspective

Cultural Appropriation: The non-consensual/misappropriate use of cultural elements for commodification or profit purposes – including symbols, art, language, customs, etc. – often without understanding, acknowledgment or respect for its value in the context of its original culture.

Damage Imagery: Visual, text/narrative or data used to highlight inequities presented without appropriate historical and sociopolitical context. Damage imagery can be corrected by explaining systemic and historical barriers and focusing on solutions within the communities that are the subject of the visuals, text/narratives or data.

Deadnaming: Using a person’s birth name or name they used previously rather than their current chosen name.

Decolonize: The active and intentional process of unlearning values, beliefs and conceptions that have caused physical, emotional or mental harm to people through colonization. It requires a recognition of systems of oppression.

Disability: Physical or mental impairment that affects a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Diversity: Socially, it refers to the wide range of identities. It broadly includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, veteran status, physical appearance, etc. It also involves different ideas, perspectives and values.

Discrimination: The unequal treatment of members of various groups, based on conscious or unconscious prejudice, which favors one group over others on differences of race, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, language, age, national identity, religion and other categories.

Distributional Equity: Programs, policies and practices that result in a fair distribution of benefits and burdens across all segments of a community, prioritizing those with highest need.

Dominant Group: The group within a society with the power, privilege and social status that controls and defines societal resources and social, political and economic systems and norms.

ESL: An acronym for English as a Second Language. ESL refers to individuals who do not speak English as their first or primary language but may still be proficient in speaking English.

Equity: The fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is necessary to provide equal opportunities to all groups.

First Nation People: Individuals who identify as those who were the first people to live on the Western Hemisphere continent. People also identified as Native Americans.

Fundamental Attribution Error: A common cognitive action in which one attributes their own success and positive actions to their own innate characteristics ('I’m a good person') and failure to external influences ('I lost it in the sun'), while attributing others' success to external influences ('He had help and got lucky') and failure to others’ innate characteristics ('They’re bad people'). This operates on group levels as well, with the in-group giving itself favorable attributions, while giving the out-group unfavorable attributions, as a way of maintaining a feeling of superiority, i.e., “double standard.”.

Gender: The socially constructed concepts of masculinity and femininity; the “appropriate” qualities accompanying biological sex.

Gender Bending: Dressing or behaving in such a way as to question the traditional feminine or masculine qualities assigned to articles of clothing, jewelry, mannerisms, activities, etc.

Gender Dysphoria (Gender Identity Disorder): Significant, clinical distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) consider Gender Identity Disorder as “intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

Gender Expression: External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics.

Gender Fluid: A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity.

Gender Identity: Distinct from the term “sexual orientation,” refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Gender Non-conforming: An individual whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

(Personal) Gender Pronouns: The set of pronouns that an individual personally uses and would like others to use when referring to them. There are several types of personal pronouns used for different groups and identities including: gendered, gender neutral and gender inclusive. Although the list of personal pronouns is continuously evolving, the intention of using a person’s pronouns correctly is to reduce the adverse societal effects those with personal pronouns that don’t match their perceived gender identity face.

Harassment: The use of comments or actions that can be perceived as offensive, embarrassing, humiliating, demeaning and unwelcome.

Hermaphrodite: NOT A PREFERRED TERM, See Intersex. An individual having the reproductive organs and many of the secondary sex characteristics of both sexes.

Identity First Language (IFL): Identity-first language positions disability as an identity category and central to a person’s sense of self. In identity-first language, the identifying word comes first in the sentence and highlights the person’s embrace of their identity. Examples could be “autistic person” or “Deaf individual.” See also PFL or Person First Language.

Implicit Bias: Negative associations expressed automatically that people unknowingly hold and that that affect our understanding, actions and decisions; also known as unconscious or hidden bias.

Inclusion: The act of creating an environment in which any individual or group will be welcomed, respected, supported and valued as a fully participating member. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces and respects differences.

Indigenous People: Individuals of specific cultural groups who live within (or are attached to) distinct traditional territories.

In-Group Bias (Favoritism): The tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally in order to uplift one group over another.

Institutional Racism: Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes and opportunities for different groups based on racial discrimination.

Intersectionality: A social construct that recognizes the fluid diversity of identities that a person can hold such as gender, race, class, religion, professional status, marital status, socioeconomic status, etc.

Intersex: An umbrella term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that can't be classified as typically male or female.

“Isms”: A way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure that oppresses a person or group because of their target group. For example, race (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), religion (e.g., anti-Semitism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), etc.

LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQIA+: Acronyms that refer to communities of individuals who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. Individually, the letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual. The plus (+) includes all other expressions of gender identity and sexual orientation and recognizes that definitions may grow and evolve overtime.

Marginalization: The process that occurs when members of a dominant group relegate a particular group (minority groups and cultures) to the edge of society by not allowing them an active voice, identity or place for the purpose of maintaining power. Marginalized groups have restricted access to resources like education and healthcare for achieving their aims.

Microaggression: The verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs, insults or actions, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon discriminatory belief systems.

Misgender: Referring or relating to a person using language whether a word or a pronoun that is not in line with another’s gender identity, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This behavior or action often occurs when people make assumptions about a person's gender identity.

Model Minority: Refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.

Multicultural Competency: A process of embracing diversity and learning about people from other cultural backgrounds. The key element to becoming more culturally competent is respect for the ways that others live in and organize the world and an openness to learn from them.

Neurodiversity: The presence of neurological differences that present in the way individuals act, think, hear and communicate. These differences in neurological conditions can include Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autism Spectrum and more.

Non-Binary/Gender Queer/Gender Variant: Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman.

Oppression: The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures.

Patriarchy: Actions and beliefs that prioritizes masculinity. Patriarchy is practiced systemically in the ways and methods through which power is distributed in society (jobs and positions of power given to men in government, policy, criminal justice, etc.) while also influencing how we interact with one another interpersonally (gender expectations, sexual dynamics, space-taking, etc.).

People of Color: A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latinx and Native American backgrounds, as opposed to the collective “White”.

Person First Language (PFL): Person-first language conveys respect by emphasizing that people with disabilities are first and foremost people. The most common example being “person with a disability.” See also IFL or Identify First Language.

Prejudice: A preconceived judgement or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment and can be rooted in stereotypes, that denies the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized.

Privilege: Exclusive access or access to material and immaterial resources based on the membership to a dominant social group.

Procedural Equity: An examination of procedural rights that includes authentic engagement through an inclusive and accessible development and implementation of fair programs or policies.

Queer: An umbrella term that can refer to anyone who transgresses society’s view of gender or sexuality. The definitional indeterminacy of the word Queer, its elasticity, is one of its characteristics: “A zone of possibilities.”

Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly race), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic and political needs of a society at a given period of time

Racially Coded Language: Language that is seemingly race-neutral but is a disguise for racial stereotypes without the stigma of explicit racism.

Re-Fencing (Exception-Making): A cognitive process for protecting stereotypes by explaining any evidence/example to the contrary as an isolated exception.

Safe Space: Refers to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and participating fully, without fear of attack, ridicule or denial of experience.

Sexual Orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Social Justice: Social justice constitutes a form of activism, based on principles of equity and inclusion that encompasses 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.

Structural inequality:  Systemic disadvantage(s) of one social group compared to other groups, rooted and perpetuated through discriminatory practices (conscious or unconscious) that are reinforced through institutions, ideologies, representations, policies/laws and practices. When this kind of inequality is related to racial/ethnic discrimination, it is referred to as systemic or structural racism.

System of Oppression: Conscious and unconscious, non-random and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups. Sometimes is used to refer to systemic racism.

T/NB/GNC:  Trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming. Acronyms that refer to communities of individuals who are not cisgender or who's physical appearance doesn't conform to society's generally accepted idea of how one's gender should be presented.

Targeted Universalism: An approach to equity work that sets universal goals followed by targeted processes to achieve said goals. Within a targeted universalism framework, universal goals are set for all individuals and groups. The strategies developed to achieve the goals are targeted, based upon how different groups are situated within structures, culture and across geographies to obtain the universal goal.

Tokenism: Performative presence without meaningful participation. For example, a superficial invitation for the participation of members of a certain socially oppressed group, who are expected to speak for the whole group without giving this person a real opportunity to speak for her/himself.

Transgender/Trans: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.

Transgressive: Challenging the accepted expectations and/or rules of the appropriateness of “polite society”.

Unconscious Bias (Implicit Bias): Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Underrepresented Groups: Groups who traditionally (or historically) have not had equal access to economic opportunities because of discrimination or other societal barriers. This may vary by context and geography but can include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, disability or low-income status. Examples of groups may be considered underrepresented can include women or women of color in a traditionally male and/or white discipline such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

White Supremacy: A power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as White, whether consciously or subconsciously determined; and who feel superior to those of other racial/ethnic identities.

The terms contained in this glossary have been reproduced from the following resources:
Anti-Violence Project, University of Victoria
Center for Diversity & Inclusion, Washington University in St. Louis
College of the Environment, University of Washington
Colors of Resistance, Definitions for the Revolution
Cram, R. H. (2002). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook
Equity and Inclusion, UC Davis
Human Resources, Harvard University
National Association of Counties
Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Pacific University Oregon
Ontario Human Rights Commission
Potapchuk, M., Leiderman, S., et al. (2009), Center for Assessment and Policy Development

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