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Diversity and Social Justice Glossary

A glossary of working definitions

This glossary is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every word and term used in our conversations about diversity and social justice. Because of the way language works especially around these concepts, many of these words and terms will continue to evolve. Even so it can be useful to have a reference that provides basic working definitions that help spur discussions.

Ableism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in physical, mental, and/or emotional ability; usually that of able‐bodied / minded persons against people with illness, disabilities, or less developed skills / talents.

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

Androgynous: A non-binary person whose biological sex is not readily apparent, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The individual may reflect an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, or who appears to be neither or both; also can be a person who rejects gender roles entirely.

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

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

Ageism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in age; usually that of younger persons against older.

Agency: refers to thoughts & actions taken by people that express their individual power in social context; denotes the power people have to think for themselves and act in ways that shape their experiences and life trajectories.

Ally: A person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group; typically member of dominant group standing beside member(s) of targeted group; e.g., a man advocating for equal pay for women.

Anti‐Semitism: Fear. hatred of or prejudice against Jews or Judaism.

Appropriation: Adopting elements of a different culture without understanding, credit, or permission. This occurs when a dominant culture takes from a minority culture and involves a power imbalance.

Aromantic: Experiencing a lack of romantic attraction towards other people. Aromantic people have varying preferences on relationships. Some enjoy participating in romantic relationships, some prefer queer-platonic partnerships, and some prefer not to be in a relationship. Can be combined with other terms (bisexual aromantic, etc.)

Asexual: Experiencing a lack of sexual attraction towards other people. Asexuality encompasses a wide range of experiences; asexual people can be sex repulsed, sex neutral, or sex positive, and can have varying sex drives. Commonly abbreviated to “ace.” Can be combined with other terms (asexual panromantic, etc.)

Assimilation: process by which one group takes on cultural and other traits of a larger group; usually refers to the forced acculturation of a marginalized group by the dominant group.

Bias: Prejudice; an inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.

Biracial: a person who identifies as being of two races or who’s biological parents are of two different racial groups.

Bigender/Dual Gender: person who possesses and expresses a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona. This person is comfortable in, and enjoys, presenting in both gender roles.

Binary: The division of society into only men and women, which ignores the existence of nonbinary and intersex people.

Bisexual: a person who is attracted to members of both the male and female sex.

Brave Space: brave space differs from safe space where everyone feels comfortable. Brave space incorporates:

  • Controversy with civility
  • Owning intentions and impacts
  • Challenge by choice (option to step in and out of challenging conversations)
  • Respect
  • No attacks (not to intentionally inflict harm on one another)

Categorization: The natural cognitive process of grouping and labeling people, things, etc. based on their similarities. Categorization becomes problematic when the groupings become oversimplified and rigid (e.g. stereotypes).

Cisgender: Having a gender that matches one’s sex assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity. Often referred to as cis-male or cis-female; this term is the antonym to transgender.

Classism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in socio‐economic status and income, usually referred to as class. Most particularly refers to the hierarchical striation of people by economic status or station.

Coalition: A collection of different people or groups, working toward a common goal.

Codification: The capture and expression of a complex concept in a simple symbol, sign or prop; for example, symbolizing “community” (equity, connection, unity) with a circle.

Collusion: Willing participation in the discrimination against and/or oppression of one’s own group (e.g., a woman who enforces dominant body ideals through her comments and actions).

Colonialism: the invasion, dispossession and subjugation of a people that results in long-term institutionalized inequality in which the colonizer benefits at the expense of the colonized.

Color-Blind: the belief that everyone should be treated “equally” without respect to societal, economic, historical, racial, or other difference. No differences are seen or acknowledged; everyone is the same, regardless of what reality may show otherwise.

Cultural Appropriation: theft of cultural elements for one’s own use, commodification, or profit—including symbols, art, language, customs, etc.—often without understanding, acknowledgement, or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant culture’s right to take other cultural elements.

Culture: social system of meaning and customs that is developed by a group of people to assure its adaptation and survival. These groups are characterized by a set of customs, values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviors and styles of communication.

Dialogue: "Communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings” (Wink, 1997); it is bidirectional, not zero‐sum and may or may not end in agreement; it can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful and has greater understanding as its goal.

Diaspora: the dispersion of a group of people who live outside their homeland due to a historical event that caused them to flee or which forcibly removed them from their homeland into new regions: such as, Africans as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Discrimination: Actions, based on conscious or unconscious prejudice, which favor and empower one group over others based on differences of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, language, nationality, veteran status.

Diversity: The wide variety of shared and different personal and group characteristics; any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another.

Dominant Culture: The cultural values, beliefs, and practices that are assumed to be the most common and influential within a given society.

Drag Queen/King: A person who exaggerates gender presentation, usually for the purpose of performance or entertainment. This is a form of gender exploration, but being a drag performer does not necessarily mean someone is part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Ethnicity: a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like.

Erasure: The invalidation of an identity, which includes exclusion and lack of representation. A form of silencing.

Equality: refers to the notion that every individual has an equal opportunity or giving everyone the exact same resources. Equality has become synonymous with ‘leveling the playing field”. Term is often mistakenly used interchangeably with ‘equity’.

Equity: refers to distributing or dividing resources proportionally based on the needs of the recipients to achieve a fair outcome for those involved. Equity can be synonymously equated to “more for those who need it” to reach a level playing field.

First Nations People: tribal people who identify as those who were the first people to live on the Western Hemisphere continent; also identified as Native American or Indigenous.

Fundamental Attribution Error: A common cognitive action in which one attributes his/her own success and positive actions to his/her 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, was lucky”) and failure to others’ innate characteristics (‘they’re bad people”). This operates on the group levels as well, with the in-group giving itself favorable attributions, while giving the out-group unfavorable attributions, as way of maintaining a feeling of superiority. A “double standard.”

Gay: Experiencing attraction to members of the same or similar gender. Can also occasionally be used as an umbrella term for anyone who is not straight.

Gender: A description of one’s internal state of being, which is not limited to the traditional gender binary. Gender is a spectrum that includes a huge variety of different identities.

Gender Dysphoria: Severe distress or discomfort experienced by a trans person due to the difference between their gender and the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gendered: Having a denotative or connotative association with being either (traditionally) masculine or feminine.

Genderfluid: Having a gender that is not static and can vary over time.

Gender Nonconforming: Expressing oneself in ways outside of society’s binary gender roles.

Genderqueer: Having a gender that is outside of the gender binary.

Gender Roles: Binary societal norms that are expected to shape the behavior and experiences of men and women.

Hapa: The term originates from the Hawaiian Pidgin word for "part" or "mixed” and refers to any person of mixed ethnic heritage, regardless of the specific mixture.

Hate Crime: Hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

Heterosexism: The presumption that everyone is, and should be, heterosexual.

Heterosexual: attraction to members of the opposite.

Homophobia: Hatred of or prejudice against LGBTQ people.

Homosexual: Experiencing sexual/romantic attraction to members of the same or similar gender. (Note: the terms ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ are preferred because of the previous American Psychological Association’s definition of ‘homosexuality’ as a mental illness).

Inclusion: an organizational effort & practice in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, and equally treated. Inclusion is a sense of belonging and inclusive cultures make people feel respected and valued for who they are for all their identities. People feel a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so they can do their best work. People feel valued as being essential to the success of the organization.

Indigenous peoples: ethnic groups who are the original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. In the United States, this can refer to groups traditionally termed Native Americans (American Indians), Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. In Canada, it can refer to the groups typically termed First Nations.

In‐group Bias: the tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally in order to uplift one group over another. Also known as favoritism.

Institutional Racism: refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups, benefitting the dominant group and disadvantaging non-dominant groups.

Intergroup Conflict: Tension and conflict which exists between social groups. And which may be enacted by individual members of these groups.

Internalized Oppression: a process by which people come to accept and internalize the inaccurate myths and stereotypes they have been exposed to.

Intersectionality: An approach arguing that classifications such as gender, race, class, and others cannot be examined in isolation from one another; they interact and intersect in individuals’ lives, in society, in social systems, and are mutually constitutive. For example, a Black woman in America does not experience gender inequalities in exactly the same way as a White woman, nor racial oppression identical to that experienced by a Black man. Each race and gender intersection produces a qualitatively distinct life.

Intersex: A person who is biologically intermediate between male and female. (2) A person with both ovarian and testicular tissue. (3) A person with two ovaries or two testes, but ambiguous genitals.

‐Ism: A social phenomenon and psychological state where prejudice is accompanied by the power to systemically enact an institutionalized form of discrimination.

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women.

LGBTQIA+: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, aromantic, and other identities that are non-heteronormative and non-cisnormative (i.e. not straight or not cisgender.)

Marginalized: Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

Misogyny: Hatred of or prejudice against women.

Model Minority: a demographic group (whether based on ethnicity, race or religion) whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. This success is typically measured relatively by income, education, low criminality and high family/marital stability. A controversial concept that has historically been used to suggest that there is no need to adjust for socioeconomic disparities between certain groups, to pit non-dominant groups against one another, and to diminish the achievements of relevant groups.

Multiculturalism (n): co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups and is manifested in customary behaviors, cultural assumptions and values, patterns of thinking, and communicative styles.

Multiplicity: The quality of having multiple, simultaneous social identities (e.g., being male, Buddhist and working class).

Multiracial: An individual whose heritage encompasses more than two races.

Multiethnic: An individual that comes from more than one ethnicity. An individual whose parents are born from more than one ethnicity.

Naming: When a thought that traditionally has not been discussed due to its counter-culture nature is articulated.

National Origin: The political state from which an individual hails; may or may not be the same as that the person's current location or citizenship.

Nonbinary: Having a gender outside of the gender binary. Often shortened to nb or enby.

Oppression: Results from the use of institutional power and privilege where one person or group benefits at the expense of another. Oppression is the use of power and the effects of domination.

Pansexual (also referred to as omnisexual): Experiencing attraction regardless of gender or to all genders.

People of Color: A collective term for people of Asian, African, Latin and Native American backgrounds; as opposed to the collective "White" for those of European ancestry.

Personal Identity: Our identities as individuals‐including our personal characteristics, history, personality, name, and other characteristics that make us unique and different from other individuals.

Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or groups toward another group and its members. Such negative attitudes are typically based on unsupported generalizations (or stereotypes) that deny the right of individual members of certain groups to be recognized and treated as individuals with individual characteristics.

Privilege: Unearned social power accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to ALL members of a dominant group (e.g. White privilege, male privilege, etc.). Privilege is usually invisible to those who have it because they are taught not to see it, but nevertheless it puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it.

Queer: An umbrella term that refers to being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This word has historically been used as a slur and therefore should not be used except through personal reclamation.

Questioning: term referring to being uncertain of one’s sexual orientation or identity.

Race: a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics. Race is often argued as being a social construct because race is not biological. A person categorized as black in the USA could be categorized as white in Brazil and colored in South Africa. If race were biological, racial categories would remain constant across boundaries. However, racialized experiences, responses and reactions are a reality and cannot be ignored on the premise of biology alone.

Racial Equity: the condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. Racial equity is one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race.

Racial Justice: the proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all.

Racism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in race/ethnicity; usually by white/European descent groups against persons of color.

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

Religion: A system of beliefs, usually spiritual in nature, and often in terms of a formal, organized denomination.

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

Saliency: The quality of a group identity of which an individual is more conscious and which plays a larger role in that individual's day‐to‐day life; for example, a man's awareness of his "maleness" in an elevator with only women.

Sex: The biological classification of male or female (based on genetic or physiological features); as opposed to gender.

Sexism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions, usually by men against women.

Sexual Orientation: A description of how someone experiences sexual attraction.

Silencing: The conscious or unconscious processes by which the voice or participation of particular social identities is excluded or inhibited.

Social Identity: the ways in which an individual characterizes oneself, the affinities one has with other people, the ways one has learned to behave in stereotyped social settings, the things one values in oneself and in the world, and the norms that one recognizes or accepts governing everyday behavior.

Social Justice: can be defined as both a process and a goal. "The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure."

Spotlighting: The practice of inequitably calling attention to particular social groups in language, while leaving others as the invisible, de facto norm. For example: "black male suspect"(versus "male suspect," presumed white); "WNBA" (as opposed to "NBA," presumed male).

Stereotype: Blanket beliefs and expectations about members of certain groups that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. They go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little information, and are highly generalized.

Structural Racism: The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for People of Color. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism. For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared with White men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access and quality of care and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these situations.

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.

TERF: acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Coined in 2008, the term initially applied to a smaller subset of feminists espousing sentiments that other feminists consider transphobic, such as the rejection of the assertion that trans- women are women, or the exclusion of trans-women from women’s spaces, and opposition to transgender rights legislation. The term has now expanded to refer more broadly to people with trans-exclusive views who may not have involvement with radical feminism.

Tolerance (n): An outdated term that alludes to the idea of acceptance and open-mindedness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures, but that does not mean agreement with the differences. For instance, an individual might say “I don’t mind if you’re Gay as long as I don’t have to see it.”

Transgender: Identifying as a gender other than the gender assigned at birth. This may be a binary or nonbinary gender.

Transphobia: The fear or hatred of people perceived to be transgender.

Transsexual: One who identifies as a gender other that of their biological sex.

Two Spirit: a modern, pan-Indian, umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe certain people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender (or other gender-variant) ceremonial role in their cultures.

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

Veteran Status: Whether or not an individual has served in a nation's armed forces (or other uniformed service).

White Privilege: 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.

White Supremacy: White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by White people and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

Worldview: The perspective through which individuals view the world; comprised of their history, experiences, culture, family history, and other influences.