Speaking and Writing About Diversity

The Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity maintains the following glossary of diversity terms as a guide for the NC State community.

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NC State Diversity Units and Terms

The following list includes terms commonly used at NC State, including campus entities related to diversity and inclusion.

Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) – With units located in Winslow Hall, Talley Student Union and Witherspoon Student Center, the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity reports to the vice provost for institutional equity and diversity. OIED has seven work units: Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Practice; Equal Opportunity and Equity; four campus community centers (African American Cultural Center, GLBT Center, Multicultural Student Affairs and the Women’s Center) and the Bias Impact Response Team. OIED also has administrative and communications staff members located in Winslow Hall.

Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Practice – Located in Winslow Hall, this unit is comprised of OIED staff members who focus on student, faculty and staff diversity as well as campus-wide diversity initiatives, including programs to attract, retain and support members of NC State populations from underrepresented groups. Web: diversity.ncsu.edu

Equal Opportunity and Equity (EOE) – Located in Winslow Hall, this unit serves in both educational and compliance capacities at NC State. Some of its chief responsibilities are equal employment opportunity and affirmative action planning and recruitment, discrimination and harassment prevention and response, ADA and religious accommodations and adjustments, and Title IX and sex discrimination compliance. Web: diversity.ncsu.edu

Campus Community Centers – The African American Cultural Center, the GLBT Center, Multicultural Student Affairs and the Women’s Center serve all NC State students while working to maximize the success of underrepresented populations. Each center provides educational programming and services for all students, faculty, staff and community members, not just those of the specific groups. They aim to educate and inform the campus about their focus areas through events such as lectures, workshops and programs. Web: diversity.ncsu.edu

African American Cultural Center (AACC) – This unit is located in Witherspoon Student Center, the only campus building named for an African American, Augustus M. Witherspoon, who earned a master’s degree and doctorate at NC State in botany. He later became a professor, associate dean and associate provost of African-American Affairs. Witherspoon Student Center was named in his honor in 1995. The center works to promote awareness of and appreciation for African American and other African descent experiences. Programming, services and events are offered throughout the year. Signature programs include Harambee!, Kwanzaa, Blacks in Wax Live Museum and the MLK Campus Commemoration. In addition, the center houses the AACC Art Gallery and the AACC Library and Media Room, both on the second floor of Witherspoon Student Center.  Web: www.ncsu.edu/aacc

GLBT Center – Located on the fifth floor of Talley Student Union, the GLBT Center serves students of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, queer, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, non-binary, agender, intersex and questioning students and their allies. Programming, services and events are offered throughout the year. Signature programs include GLBT Symposium during Wolfpack Welcome Week, GLBT History Month, Transgender Awareness Week and Lavender Graduation. Web: www.ncsu.edu/glbt

Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) – Located on the fourth floor of Talley Student Union, Multicultural Student Affairs researches, designs and implements programs that promote the pursuit of academic success, retention and graduation of students, with an emphasis on African American, Native American and Hispanic/Latinx students. Programming, services and events are offered throughout the year. Signature programs include the Symposium for Multicultural Scholars during Wolfpack Welcome Week, the Peer Mentor Program, Latinx Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Kwanzaa, Black History Month, the Tunnel of Oppression and the NC State Powwow. Web: www.ncsu.edu.msa

Women’s Center – Located on the fifth floor of Talley Student Union, the Women’s Center aims to be a catalyst and resource advancing gender equity and social justice through education, advocacy and leadership development. The center serves undergraduate, graduate and non-degree seeking students as well as faculty and staff. Programming, services and events are offered throughout the year. Signature programs include Alternative Service Break trips, Read to L.E.A.D., the Chocolate Festival for Breast Cancer Research, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Sisterhood Dinner. The center also provides interpersonal violence advocacy services. Web: www.ncsu.edu/womens-center

Committees and Groups – NC State has numerous committees and liaisons comprised of faculty and staff from OIED as well as staff from the NC State administration, colleges and divisions. Groups convened by OIED include:

  • African American Coordinating Committee
  • AIAC – American Indian Advisory Council
  • CAACAC – Chancellor’s African American Community Advisory Council
  • CSW – Council on the Status of Women
  • BIRT – Bias Impact Response Team
  • HLAG – Hispanic/Latinx Advisory Group
  • Multicultural Faculty Group
  • UDAC – University Diversity Advisory Committee

Organizations – NC State has numerous student, staff and faculty organizations that are affiliated with and/or sponsored by the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity and its units. These include:

  • AcePack – Interest group for persons who are aromantic/asexual
  • AASAC – African American Student Advisory Council
  • ASIA – Asian Students in Alliance
  • Association of Women Faculty
  • Bi/Pan@NCSU – Interest group for persons who are bisexual/pansexual
  • DEPTH – Diversity Education for our Peers to THrive
  • GLBTCA – GLBT Community Alliance
  • GLBT Faculty Staff Network
  • Mi Familia – Hispanic/Latinx community
  • NASA – Native American Student Association
  • oStem – Professional organization for GLBT students majoring in STEM fields
  • QTPOC – Queer and Trans People of Color
  • The Movement – Women’s Center peer educators
  • T-Files – interest/support group for persons who are transgender
  • Women’s Staff Network

College and Division Diversity and Equity Personnel – Each college and division has the following staff, who partner with OIED:

  • diversity coordinator, director and/or assistant dean
  • unit equity officer

Diversity dictionary entry

General Diversity Terms

The following list includes general diversity terms commonly used in academia.

accommodation or reasonable accommodation – any change in the working or learning environment or the way things are done that enables a person to enjoy equal opportunity.  Reasonable accommodations may be requested based on religion or disability.

ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act, a law passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.

affirmative action – an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of underrepresented groups; a similar effort to promote the rights or progress of other disadvantaged persons.

aro/ace – prefixes relating to aromantic (an adjective referring to the experience of feeling little or no romantic attraction towards anyone) or asexual (an adjective referring to the experience of feeling little or no sexual attraction towards anyone).

bi/pan – prefixes relating to bisexual (an adjective referring to sexual, romantic and/or emotional attraction to men, women and/or non-binary persons) or pansexual (an adjective referring to sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to others regardless of whether they are men, women or non-binary persons).

Black – used to describe a person of African ancestry; the AP Stylebook followed by NC State instructs writers to capitalize this word. If you choose to capitalize this word when referring to people, OIED recommends also capitalizing White and Brown for consistency, although AP does not currently include these.

Campus SaVE Act – a law enacted in 2013 that amended the Clery Act to mandate extensive “primary prevention and awareness programs” regarding sexual misconduct and related offenses.

cisgender – an adjective referring to a person whose gender identity is the same as that commonly associated with their sex assigned at birth (assigned male at birth, identifies as a man; assigned female at birth, identifies as a woman).

Clery Act – a consumer protection law passed in 1990 that requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety as well as inform the public of crime in or around campus.

cultural competence – (official NC State definition in progress) – the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures domestically and internationally.

discrimination – prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action or treatment that can occur between individuals, within groups or systemically within groups or organizations

diversity – the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; variety; the inclusion of  people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, nations of origin, languages, ages or other lived experiences) in a group or organization.

equal opportunity – providing access to education, employment, housing and other areas of society in a way that is not discriminating against people because of their age, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation or veteran status.

equity – The phrase “equity in higher education” refers to creating opportunities for equal access and success in higher education among historically underrepresented populations, such as limited resource, international and/or first-generation college students, as well as limited resource or limited english proficiency employees, to name a few.

ethnicity – status of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural traditions.

gender expression – the innumerable ways that people exhibit gender through their clothing, voice, hair styles, body language and behavior; gender expression may or may not be consistent with socially prescribed gender roles and may or may not reflect one’s gender orientation or identity.

gender identity – one’s concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither that can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth; the label people use to acknowledge and reflect their internal sense of gender orientation (or, in some cases, to hide that gender orientation from others).

harassment – to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.

inclusion (with respect to diversity) – the proactive efforts to promote inclusiveness and respect for differences in the workplace and the educational environment.

interim measures and accommodations – as described under Title IX, steps taken to ensure equal access to education programs and activities, and/or to stabilize a situation by providing remedies and accommodations to a reporting student and the campus community where appropriate due to either sexual violence or pregnancy or parenting student status.

intersectionality – a term first used by K. Crenshaw in 1989 to denote the study of intersections between different disenfranchised and underrepresented groups; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination; for example, being African American and female.

Latinx – a gender-inclusive term that originated on college campuses to replace the terms “Latino” and “Latina.”

microaggression – types of discrimination manifested in verbal, nonverbal or environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages or target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership; related terms: microassault, microinsult, microinvalidation

nationality – status of being a member or citizen of a particular country.

protected class – a group of people who share common characteristics and are protected from discrimination and harassment. Some protections have the backing of federal and/or state laws. NC State University protects students, faculty and staff from discrimination and harassment based on age (40 or older), color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status.

race – a social construct denoting differences and similarities in biological traits that take on social meanings in society.

responsible employee – any employee: (a) who has the authority to take action to redress sexual harassment/misconduct; (b) who has been given the duty of reporting incidents of sexual harassment/misconduct or any other misconduct by students to the Title IX coordinator or other appropriate designee; or (c) who a student reasonably believes has this authority or duty. (See NC State’s list of responsible employees and their requirements).

Title IX – a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

Title VI – legislation passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

Title VII – legislation passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

transgender – an adjective referring to a person whose gender identity is different from that commonly associated with their sex assigned at birth (assigned male at birth, identifies as a woman; assigned female at birth, identifies as a man; assigned male or female at birth, identifies as non-binary).

unconscious bias – also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.

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Do's and Don'ts

The following list includes tips and pitfalls.

The use of people-first language is a movement to recognize the fundamental humanity of people, regardless of any disability they may have, and to help challenge the stereotype that people are limited by or limited to their disability. Thus, instead of saying “disabled person,” we say “person with disabilities,” putting the “person” first so the assumption isn’t that their disability is the most important or only thing we need to know about them. Other examples of people-first language: instead of saying someone is “learning disabled,” say they “have a learning disability,” or instead of saying someone is “handicapped” or “crippled,” say they “have a physical disability.” Having a disability is one characteristic of a person; their disability is not who they are. See also: “People First Language” (Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, 2016).

There are many ways that we unintentionally demean people with disabilities through the casual ways we use language associated with disabilities to create a negative connotation about things unrelated to disability. One of the most common ways this occurs is through the offhand use of words like “psycho,” “nuts,” “maniac,” “insane,” or “crazy,” which imply through their use as negative modifiers that there is something wrong or abnormal about having a mental health condition. Similarly, casually using terms associated with specific diagnoses (e.g., “OCD,” “schizophrenic,” or “bipolar”) as ways to characterize someone’s behavior as problematic is demeaning to people who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions. In much the same way, the use of words such as “retarded,” “stupid,” or “dumb” to describe individuals is demeaning to people with cognitive or learning disabilities, and using terms like “lame,” “blind,” or “deaf” as generalized negative descriptors for people, places or things is demeaning to people with physical disabilities. Additionally, using terms like “crippling” or “a handicap” to refer to things considered problematic is also demeaning to people with physical disabilities. See also: “Disabling Ableist Language” (Andy Hollandbeck, 2016)

Traditional rules for writing once taught that “he / him / his” should be used as the default pronouns to refer to everyone. We have since shifted to using “he / she” as a combined subject pronoun as a way to be inclusive of women. However, as we continue to recognize the gender diversity that exists in our society and as we acknowledge that many people do not identify within the gender binary (i.e., they identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, gender non-binary, etc. rather than as men or women), we should consider changing our default pronoun use to better reflect that understanding and to signal to our readers that we are creating space for everyone, including readers who identify along the transgender spectrum. The use of “they / them / theirs” has gained acceptance both as a way to acknowledge and respect the gender-neutral pronouns an individual might use and to use pronouns to refer to people in general in a way that makes no assumption about or places any limits on their gender identity. Thus, instead of writing: “Applicants for the position should submit his / her resume and cover letter,” we can write, “Applicants for the position should submit their resume and cover letter.” See also: “Everyone Uses Singular ‘They,’ Whether They Realize It Or Not” (Geoff Nunberg, 2016)

Understand issues of diversity and be able to express empathy about concerns related to inclusion and climate. Campus staff and administrators are increasingly called on to make statements in response to specific bias incidents or broader climate concerns. It is crucial for the individuals drafting and issuing statements to work on developing their cultural competency on an ongoing basis and to consult with diversity experts before commenting on specific incidents or issues. It is quite common for university personnel to issue statements that unintentionally make marginalized communities on campus feel less understood and less supported. Before issuing any statement, make sure you fully understand the issue, what members of the campus community have experienced, how those experiences have impacted them emotionally and how those experiences have shaped their perception of the campus, its climate, and how welcome or included they feel there. Make sure to have a diverse panel of advisors vet any statement before issuing it. Having people with multiple perspectives review any statement will help decrease the possibility that something potentially problematic is included. See also: “Brené Brown on Empathy” (RSA, 2013)

Tone policing is a phrase used to describe the decision by people in power to provide guidance or suggestions or criticism related to the tone of conversations about cultural climate, harassment, discrimination, oppression, or violence. Tone policing occurs when people in positions of power rebuke people who are attempting to speak out about their experiences for the manner in which they’re speaking out (often by implying that they are too “angry” or “confrontational” or that they “aren’t helping” by not being more “civil”). On college campuses, tone policing often occurs in advance of student-led protests when administrators encourage students to protest “respectfully.” The effect of tone policing is that people often feel even more marginalized as tone policing is interpreted as serving to ensure that people in power aren’t made to feel too uncomfortable when others speak out about their oppression or as an act whereby people in power exert their power to attempt to control the tone of conversations and thereby silence others. See also: Feminism 101: What is Tone-Policing? (Jacqueline Pei, 2016)

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Language to Avoid

The following list includes incorrect and outdated terminology that you should not use.

The term “minority” has come to be seen as a generalized term for “the other.” Also, the use of “minority” implies a “less than” attitude toward the community or communities being discussed. Instead, use either community-specific terms (e.g., “Native American,” “African American,” etc.) or the general term “people of color” when referring to racial or ethnic communities. When referring to other marginalized communities, clarify which specific community or communities are being discussed (e.g., “GLBT people,” “people with disabilities,” etc.). See also “On Race: The Relevance of Saying ‘Minority’” (Edward Schumacher-Matos, 2011)

The use of the phrases “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” are considered divisive and derogatory as they characterize as criminals individuals who are in the United States without documentation. Instead, use the phrase “undocumented immigrant.” See also “Immigration Debate: The Problem with the Word Illegal” (Jose Antonio Vargas, 2012)

Both the term “homosexual” and “transsexual” have their origins in medical diagnoses. Because of the pathologized history of these terms, members of the GLBT community avoid them. Instead, use some version of the “GLBT / LGBT / GLBTQ / LGBTQ / etc.” acronym; check with an institution’s diversity office about which version of the acronym is commonly used at that institution (at NC State, ‘GLBT’ is used). When referring to specific individuals, it is ideal to use the term that reflects the language they use to describe their identity (e.g., “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” etc.).

The terms “sexual preference” and “lifestyle” are considered offensive because they imply that a person’s sexuality is a choice. Rather than using either term, use “sexual orientation” instead.

While the use of the term “Eskimo” is not considered offensive by all Alaskan Natives, it is considered offensive by some. As an alternative, some linguists and Alaskan Natives argue that “Inuit” is a more inclusive term to use, though it does not accurately refer to all Alaskan Natives. To avoid referring to an individual or group by a term that is not appropriate for their tribal heritage, the use of their specific tribe name (e.g., Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, etc.) is preferred, and if their tribe name is not known, the use of “Alaskan Native” is an inclusive alternative. See also “Inuit or Eskimo: Which name to use?” (Lawrence Kaplan, 2011)

The word “gypsy” originated as a term used to refer to the Romani (or Roma), a nomadic ethnic group who were characterized as thieves and swindlers. Hence, the term “gyp / gip” is used to refer to the act of stealing. All versions of this term should be avoided as they are derogatory to the Romani people.

The use of the terms “Negro” and “Colored” to refer to black people or African Americans is historically rooted in the systemic racism (i.e., segregation and Jim Crow laws) that characterized when and how the terms were used, which was to remind black people of “their place” and to “keep them there.” Consequently, both terms should be avoided. There is no universally accepted alternative: some people prefer the use of the phrase “black people,” (see section above for notes on capitalization) others prefer the use of “African American,” and the use of “people of color” has emerged as a broader term that is inclusive of people across communities of color and of people with heritages inclusive of multiple communities of color (e.g., Afro-Latino).

Like the terms “Negro” and “Colored” which have meanings deeply connected to their historical use, the term “Oriental” is historically associated with the attitudes about Asians that led to the exclusion acts created to keep Asians from immigrating to the United States. Consequently, the use of the term is considered “othering” and derogatory and should be avoided. Ideally, you would refer to a person by their specific cultural heritage (e.g., Korean, Chinese-American or Samoan), but if a person’s heritage is unknown, the broader terms “Asian,” “Asian American,” or “Pacific Islander” are appropriate.

While originally the phrase “politically correct” (or “PC”) was intended as a way to denote language that has been vetted or corrected to avoid offending a marginalized group, the phrase has now evolved into a label used to criticize those same protective words and actions by those that seek to remove those protections or claim they are not needed.