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Diversity Programming Board

DPB Definitions

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Terminology

The words we use in our everyday conversations have a powerful impact on our communication. The right words can help open people’s hearts and minds, while others can create distance or confusion. Many people refrain from talking about the topics of diversity or inclusion because their understanding is still developing, or because they're afraid of saying the wrong thing.

The selected definitions below were written to help give people a shared language at RCC to help make conversations easier and more comfortable. We recognize that this is not an exhaustive list, but it can begin to provide some language for articulating various experiences on campus.

This list is always a work in progress, so please be sure to check back often.


Click on each word to expand the definition of the word

Ableism is the intentional or unintentional discrimination or oppression of individuals with disabilities.

Refers to the design of products, devices, services or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both direct access (i.e. unassisted) and indirect access, meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).

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.

A process of systematic stereotyping or discrimination against a particular age-group. For example: the elderly being categorized as senile, rigid in thought and manner, and old fashioned in morality and skill is ageism against the elderly. Yet ageism also includes behaviors and attitudes against younger people. For example: the belief that simply being older entitles a person to act upon young people without their agreement is also ageism.

A person who is internally ungendered or does not have a felt sense of gender identity.

In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in god(s) or deities, and may wonder if humans are capable of the level of reasoning to even determine if such a thing is knowable. Whereas an atheist disbelieves in any god or deities.

A person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group; typically a member of a dominant identity advocating and supporting a marginalized group.

Someone who reflects an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, or who appears to be neither or both a male and a female.

A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation. They may or may not experience romantic attraction.

Little or no romantic, emotional and/or sexual attraction toward other persons. Asexual could be described as non-sexual, but asexuality is different from celibacy, which is a choice to not engage in sexual behaviors with another person.

Also known as “biological sex.” The biological classification of male or female (based on genetic or physiological features); as opposed to gender.

An inclination or preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment. (See Prejudice.)

An unreasonable or irrational attachment to negative stereotypes and prejudices.

Individuals whose gender identity and expression line up with their birth-assigned sex. For example: someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.

Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on a difference in socioeconomic status, income, class; usually by upper classes against lower.

The practice of changing the way you express yourself culturally and linguistically based on different parts of your identity and how they are represented in the group you’re with.

The belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based on the presumption that differences are by definition bad or problematic, and therefore best ignored (i.e., “I don’t see race, gender, etc.”). This should not be confused with someone who is Color Deficient:  An individual who is not able to differentiate Blue and Green for example.

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. For example: the expressed belief that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. because they are going to be terrorists is a conscious bias.

The adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It is generally applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to appropriating culture. This appropriation often occurs without any real understanding of why the original culture took part in these activities, often converting culturally significant artifacts, practices, and beliefs into “meaningless” pop-culture or giving them a significance that is completely different/less nuanced than they would originally have had.  For example: NFL's Washington Redskins have been accused of cultural appropriation with their use of a mascot of an American Indian wearing a headdress (the same can be said about the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks).  Another example: some Halloween costumes, such as a "gypsy," Rastafarian, or geisha are also considered cultural appropriation — each outfit plays into stereotypes that have led to the mistreatment or misunderstanding of a group of people.

An American immigration policy that allows some individuals who were brought to the United States without inspection as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. People who were able to access DACA are often called ‘Dreamers’ because the proposed Dream Act would grant them similar, but expanded, legal rights. For example: RCC’s 2018 Commencement Speaker, Jocksana Corona, is a Dreamer and qualifies under DACA.

A man or woman dressed as the opposite gender, usually for the purpose of performance or entertainment. Many times, overdone or outrageous and may present a “stereotyped image.” It is important to know a drag queen/king can be of any sexual identity. For example: RuPaul is a famous drag queen known for the series RuPaul's Drag Race. Another example: Lady Gaga also has a drag king persona known as Jo Calderone from her music video You and I.

A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions). There are many types of disabilities, such as those that affect a person’s: vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health, social relationships, etc. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.

The denial of justice and fair treatment (whether intentional or unintentional) by both individuals and institutions that impact a group’s ability to access rights in many areas--including employment, education, housing, banking, and political rights. Discrimination is an action that can follow prejudiced thinking.

In a general sense: variety. In a societal context: the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different identities (race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc.).

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

A social construct which divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical base. For example: actor Jason Momoa identifies his race as Native Hawaiian, but his ethnicity is Polynesian.

Giving members of an organization the exact same access to rights, resources, representation and respect regardless of individual needs and/or unequal starting points. (See Equity)

The guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all students, faculty, and staff, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented 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 needed to assist equality in the provision of effective opportunities to all groups. Taking stock of differential historical and current access to rights, resources, representation, and respect, and seeking to achieve equilibrium by coordinating institutional resources around differential needs.

The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Feminism has been stigmatized, but surveys show Americans are generally in support of gender equality.

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

A common cognitive action in which one attributes their own success and positive actions to their own innate characteristics, while attributing others' success to external influences and failure to others’ innate characteristics. For example: thinking thoughts such as “I got that job because I’m a good person. I didn’t get that job only because the interviewer was having a bad day. He got the same job because he had help and got lucky. They didn’t even get an interview because they’re bad people.”

The socially constructed ideas about behavior, actions, and roles a particular sex performs.

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. (Also considered gender non-conforming.) For example: actor Billy Porter’s outfit at the 2019 Academy Awards is described as gender bending due to his mix of a full-length gown silhouette with a traditional tuxedo top.

Refers to behaviors, such as attire, demeanor, and language, through which we intentionally or unintentionally communicate gender. An individual’s outward and external gendered appearance. This may include hair styles, clothes, accessories, and mannerisms. Gender expression may also include gender roles which are also defined by an individual’s culture/society.

Refers to a person’s internal self-concept with regard to gender categories like man and woman. Gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. A personal conception of one’s own gender; often in relation to a gender opposition between masculinity and femininity. It is how people externally communicate or perform their gender identity to others.

Specific sets of expectations for gender expressions, which characterize what men and women are “supposed to” be in a particular society. The dominant assumption is that an individual’s sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression always line up- for example that all female-bodied people identify as women and express themselves though femininity.

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.

An individual having the reproductive organs and many of the secondary sex characteristics of both sexes. (Note: This is NOT a preferred term. See Intersex) The term hermaphrodite has historically been used in stigmatizing and offensive ways in general society, to the point where most intersexed individuals in modern times do not feel comfortable describing themselves with that term.

Attracted to members of the same sex. (Note: This is NOT a preferred term. See?Gay, Lesbian.) Because of the clinical history of the word "homosexual," it is aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.

Refers to individuals' feelings of not being as capable or adequate as others. A psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Literature has shown that such impostor feelings influence a person's self-esteem, professional goal directed-ness, locus of control, mood, and relationships with others. For example: a woman of color attending a predominately white male-dominated institution is likely to worry that her accomplishments are not good enough relative to her peers' accomplishments.

The act of creating involvement, environments and empowerment in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate with equal access to opportunities and resources embrace differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.

The tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally in order to uplift one group over another. For example: These groups could be formed by gender, race, ethnicity, or a favorite sports team. We tend to overwhelmingly favor people who are similar to us and who belong to these similar groups.

A form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political systems. For example: People of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness and food insecurity across the US.

The conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one's ethnic group, leading to finding faults with oneself or members of one's own group, while valuing the dominant culture (internalized inferiority). Another form of internalized racism is when a white person mistakenly believes he or she is better than people of color (internalized superiority).

An approach coined by Kimberl´┐Ż Crenshaw which argues classifications such as gender, race, class, and others cannot be examined in isolation from one another; they are connected.  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.

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.

The acronym that means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. The addition of a “Q” at the end often means “questioning” or “queer.” One “A” stands for “asexual”, another for “allies”. The “I” means “intersex”.
Discrimination or prejudice based upon an individual’s appearance.

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

Names for populations at the opposite ends of the privilege and power continuum. Members of marginalized groups experience discrimination; members of dominant groups, if willing to conform to dominant group social norms, experience the privilege of discrimination-free access to rights, resources, representation, and respect, including involvement in mainstream economic, political, cultural and social activities.

An individual’s psychological and emotional well-being.

A range of disorders that affect an individual’s, mood, thinking, and behavior.

The slights, insults, and insinuations that people from historically marginalized groups weather daily. Microaggressions are often delivered by well-meaning people, sometimes even in the form of an intended compliment.

To use the wrong pronouns or other gender-specific words such as 'ladies’ or sir when referring to or speaking to someone, especially a transgender person.

Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Examples include: Thinking underarm hair—or really any body hair—on women is weird or unsightly. Thoughts that periods are “gross” and any woman who is angry is just PMSing.” Using the term “working mother” but not the term “working father.”

A minority group whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. For example: Asian Americans are often stereotyped as a model minority that achieves good grades, is obedient, and uncomplaining.

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

Refers to the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development. Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits. Neurodiversity is often contrasted with the “medical model,” which views conditions such as autism or ADHD as disorders to prevent, treat, or cure.

A term commonly used by those who consider themselves “color-blind,” a claim that in effect, denies any role in perpetuating systemic racism, or any responsibility to act to dismantle it. Institutional racism is perpetuated not only by those who actively discriminate, but by those who fail to challenge it (silence = consent).

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.

Collective identity formed when multiple ethnic groups forge a sense of shared belonging. The development of solidarity between ethnic subgroups as reflected in the terms Hispanic and Asian American.

A term referring to the potential for sexual attractions or romantic love toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. The concept of pan-sexuality deliberately rejects the gender binary and derives its origin from the transgender movement.

The experience of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own. Passing may be applied to identities such as: race, ethnicity, caste, social class, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age and/or disability status. For example: In the context of gender, passing refers to someone, typically a transgender person, who is perceived as the gender they wish to present as. While successful passing may contribute to economic security, safety, and avoidance of stigma, it may take an emotional toll as a result of denial of one's previous identity and may lead to depression or self-loathing.

An acronym standing for “person of color.” This term is used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. Another variation of this is BIPOC which adds in the “B” for Black and “I” for Indigenous. The additions of Black and Indigenous is meant to highlight the fact that these identities still bear the impact of slavery and genocide, and are severely affected by systemic racial injustices.

Access to individuals, social groups, and institutions that own and/or control the majority of a community's resources, as well as the ability to define norms and standards of behavior.

An attitude or opinion - usually negative - about socially defined groups (racial, religious, national, etc.) or any person perceived to be a member of that group, formed with insignificant knowledge, reason, or deliberation.

Any unearned benefit, right or advantage one receives in society as a result of their social group.

A member of an advantaged social group privileged by one or more identities, that results in unearned advantages due to inequitable access to rights, resources, representation, and respect. Though privilege cannot be given away as long as discriminatory systems exist, members of privileged groups can leverage their privilege to disrupt status quo attitudes and behaviors and lobby for equity and equality.

Some LGBTQ people use this term as a way of reclaiming the power associated in the past with this term and other derogatory terms (such as fag or dyke). Others use it as a more general all-inclusive term to represent a variety of sexual orientations and/or gender identities or anything that defies easy definition or categorization. Note: Due to the discrimination they faced when being called queer, some older LGBT people still consider this term offensive.

A term used to refer to an individual who is uncertain of their sexual orientation or identity.

A social construct (with no biological validity) that divides people into district groups by categorizing them based on arbitrary elements of physical appearance, particularly skin color.

An image, attitude or judgment, applied to an entire group of people.

Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on a difference in race/ethnicity; usually by white/European descent groups against persons of color. The discrimination found within racism is often based on racial stereotyping and can occur consciously or unconsciously, actively and passively.

Also known as “exception-making.” A cognitive process for protecting stereotypes by explaining any evidence/example to the contrary as an isolated exception.

The action of blaming an individual or group for something when, in reality, there is no one person or group responsible for the problem. It targets another person or group as responsible for problems in society because of that person’s group identity. For example: artist Yoko Ono, the second wife of singer-songwriter John Lennon, is often named as the reason the Beatles band broke up despite all members of the band describing various reasons for the split.

Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on a difference in sex/gender; usually by men against women.

A term commonly used by white people to equate instances of hostile behavior towards them by people of color with the racism that people of color face. This is the way of ignoring the issue of who has power.

The direction of one’s sexual attraction toward the same gender, opposite gender, or other genders. One’s gender identity and gender expression are not necessarily related to one’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a continuum and not necessarily a set of absolute categories. Examples of sexual orientation include (but are not limited to) someone identifying as lesbian, gay, heterosexual, straight, asexual, bisexual, queer, polysexual, pansexual, etc.

A broad term for action intended to create a just society where all people have a right to fair and equitable treatment, support and resources.

Acceptance, and open-mindedness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures; does not necessarily mean agreement with the differences.

Hiring or seeking to have?representation such as a few women and/or racial or ethnic minority persons so as to appear inclusive while remaining mono-cultural. Tokenism places a burden on an individual to represent all others like them. For example: When the lone person in an underrepresented group is consistently asked to speak about being a member of that group.

People who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth.

Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination. This phobia can exist in LGB and straight communities. Homophobia and transphobia are still major issues among LGBTQ youth, who are at higher risk for verbal harassment by classmates.

Also known as “implicit bias.” Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. For example: there are unintentional associations that the mind forms that connect skin color, gender, or other identity markers to inherent traits such as intelligence, morals, or athleticism, or to social roles such as leadership, menial laborers, etc. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

School-aged immigrants who entered the United States without inspection/overstayed their visas and are present in the United States with or without their parents. This group may face unique legal uncertainties and limitations within the US educational system because of their citizenship status.

The legal definition is: “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” There are different types of veterans, but regardless of the type, they are all veterans. For instance: war veteran, combat veteran, retired veteran, disabled veteran, etc.

A broad social construction that embraces white culture, history, ideology, experiences, emotions, behaviors, etc. which creates a world view and structural benefits for those socially deemed white.  Example: “I tend to define whiteness not by what it is, but by how it functions.  I view whiteness as an exclusionary force that seeks to police and demarcate a host of boundaries and opportunities in society. As such, whiteness defines itself largely by what it is not.” – Stephen Menendian, Assistant Director and Director of Research at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. For example: People of color often choose not to share their racial perspectives in order to protect white people’s feelings or to avoid discomfort felt by white people.

Lack of racial discrimination that results in unearned advantages materially and/or psychologically based on nothing more than skin color and other physical indicators of racial classification.

Often confused with KKK or White Nationalism, white supremacy is the ideology brought to the US by European colonial settlers and those who follow them. The ideology believes that white, male, Protestant, elite (once land-owning), heterosexual people are superior to all others and should therefore dominate all living things. The ideology is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated systems of dominance and includes the exploitation of people of color by white people, and which maintains white, male, Protestant, heterosexual, elite peoples’ positions of relative wealth, power, and privilege.

Hatred or fear of foreigners/strangers or of their politics or culture.  Several examples include (but are not limited to): the Holocaust (the systematic elimination of Jewish people), murdering of black families by the Ku Klux Klan, and the rounding up and jailing of Japanese Americans during WWII.

The belief that someone else's culture is superior to their own. For example: An American who insists French culture is better than the American way of living is displaying xenocentrism.

Sources Consulted

Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Castañeda, C., Hackman, H. W., Peters, M. L., & Zúñiga, X. (Eds.). (2010). Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Second Edition ed., pp. 424-534). New York, NY: Routledge.

Center For Disease Control & Prevention: Disability and Health Overview. (2020, September 16). Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability.html

Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (n.d.) Media Reference Guide - Terms To Avoid. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/reference/offensive

Henry, S. L., Abou-Zahra, S., and Brewer, J. (2014). The role of accessibility in a universal web. In Proceedings of the 11th Web for All Conference (W4A '14). ACM: New York. doi#10.1145/2596695.2596719.

National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education, handout.The National Conference for Community and Justice: Ableism (NCCJ). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nccj.org/ableism

Pacific University (n.d.). Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from https://www.pacificu.edu/life-pacific/support-safety/office-equity-diversity-inclusion/glossary-terms

Seider, C. (2018, June 6). An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech. Retrieved from https://open.buffer.com/inclusive-language-tech

University of California-Berkeley Gender Equity Center. (2013). Definition of terms: agender. Retrieved from http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms#agender