Common Language Glossary

Developed by the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Words have power.

An individual’s language is continually developed as a result of lived experiences and education. We acquire this language from our families, our friends, in school, and within our unique cultural contexts. Our college community strives to create an environment in which each of us is responsible for the words we use and to develop a vocabulary that is free of harmful terminology.

In its place, we seek to add inclusive, growth-oriented terms to our vocabulary, so our words become powerful tools to support and uplift those around us.

In order to productively engage with equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, it is essential to have a shared understanding of important terms.

This glossary includes intentional, thoughtfully researched terminology to help minimize misunderstanding and misrepresentation. As language is ever-changing, this glossary is not exhaustive and will be regularly updated as terminology and definitions shift and expand.

This glossary centers race and the disruption of the white written word. As our college community delves deeper into the use of language as an EDI tool, the glossary will grow to include a broader spectrum of terminology addressing different topics and aspects of identity.

The goals of this glossary are:

  • Develop an institutional common language baseline for our community to build upon.
  • Encourage each community member to be responsible for language usage, focusing on an accurate understanding of key terminology.
  • Encourage each community member to consider the intent AND impact of their words.
  • Use this common language throughout all college processes, messaging, and documents.

The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee developed this glossary. TCC thanks them for their efforts and contributions to create this useful and important document.

EDI-Related Glossary of Terms

Accountability- The ways individuals and communities hold themselves responsible for their goals and actions and acknowledge the values and groups to which belong within the context of equity work.

Affinity groups- Spaces for people to work within their own racial/ethnic groups. For BIPOC, these are spaces to collaborate with peers around healing, liberation, and unpacking their experiences of racism. For white people, these spaces provide an opportunity to work explicitly on understanding and critically analyzing white culture and white privilege while putting the onus on white people to teach each other rather than exploiting BIPOC knowledges and experiences (as often occurs in integrated spaces).

Agency- Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices and is influenced and/or determined by access to systemic power. The concept of agency is complex and multifaceted and will show up in many contexts for EDI practitioners. One can use their agency to promote equity; agency can be conscious or unconscious, and the consequences and outcomes of using one’s agency vary. (See also, Power and Target). Systems (such as education, legislative, penal, healthcare, etc.) are power structures established by dominant culture that benefit dominant culture and oppress systemically nondominant groups.

Allyship- A process of listening, learning, and participating in antiracist action (see below) to confront racism with a commitment to non-complacency. Allies commit to reducing their own complicity and/or collusion in oppression of marginalized groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of systemic inequity.

Amplification- A technique allies use to boost the message of a member of a systemically nondominant group by repeating and/or highlighting what that individual said and giving them credit for their ideas. Dominant group members and EDI practitioners are cautioned to use the “amplifying voice” concept as a consensual act and not as a performative act.

Antiracist action- Action that seeks to dismantle individual, systemic, and institutionalized practices of racism. It also identifies and confronts racist ideologies which manifest overtly and covertly in institutions, conversations, curriculum, and organizational structures. (Kendi, 2019)

Anti-bias training- Programs that are designed to expose people to their implicit biases and provide tools to recognize and adjust automatic patterns of thinking.

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

Bystander effect- A social phenomenon wherein individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim of an attack and/or harassment when other people are present.

Caucuses- See Affinity groups

Code switching- Practice that involves adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities. Code switching has long been a strategy for people of color to successfully navigate interracial interactions and has large implications for their well-being, economic advancement, and even physical survival.

Code meshing- Act of combining and blending local, vernacular, colloquial, and world dialects of English in formal assignments and in everyday conversation. Term was coined by Vershawn Ashanti Young, who proposes that code-meshing as an approach to language instruction that allows blending standard English and African American English.

Coded language- Phrases that target a specific group of people or set of ideas with such frequency over time that the circumstances of the phrase’s use are blended into the phrase’s meaning, e.g. blacklist/whitelist.

Colonization- Forms of invasion, dispossession, subjugation, and systematic diminishment of Indigenous peoples, cultures, and spaces.

Color-blind racism- A racial ideology that “explains contemporary inequality as the outcome of nonracial dynamics,” including cultural assumptions, consequences of capitalism and the free market, and other natural phenomena. It is centered around the core belief that race-based differences don't matter, ignores the realities of systemic racism, and leaves people without the language to discuss race and examine their own bias. This term, while widely used currently, has faced criticism and should be used with care due to the ableism inherent in linking a physical disability (color blindness) with an oppressive ideology. (Bonilla-Silva, 2014)

Colorism- Institutions and practices that privilege those with lighter skin color and discriminate against those with darker skin color.

Communities of Color- is a term used primarily in the United States to describe communities of people who are not identified as White, emphasizing common experiences of racism. (2016)

Community Organizations- social work concentrating upon the organized development of community social welfare through coordination of public and private agencies.

Content warning- See Trigger or content warning

Critical Race Theory (CRT)- Critical race theory (CRT) was developed by activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The basic tenets of CRT assert that racism is a permanent, endemic component of American life and challenges the claims of neutrality, objectivity, colorblindness, and meritocracy in society. CRT further asserts that the experiential knowledge of BIPOC is appropriate, legitimate, and an integral part to analyzing and understanding racial inequality. The movement challenges ahistoricism and the single disciplinary foci of most analyses and insists that race and racism be placed in both a contemporary and historical context using interdisciplinary methods. CRT is a framework that is committed to a social justice agenda to eliminate all forms of subordination of people. (Delgado and Stefanic, 2001)

Culturally appropriate- responsive to a client’s cultural beliefs and values, ethic norms, language needs, religion and individual differences.

Cultural appropriation- The adoption of an element or elements of a systemically nondominant culture or identity by members of the dominant culture or identity without giving credit, respecting their original meaning, and/or taking care to avoid perpetuating further oppression.

Cultural bias- Interpretation or judgment of phenomena by standards inherent in the systemically dominant culture, disregarding standards of systemically nondominant cultures.

Culturally competent- loosely defined as the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one's own — has been a key aspect of psychological thinking and practice for some 50 years. (DeAngelis, 2015)

Culturally responsive teaching- Framework for culturally responsive approaches to education, developed by scholars and teacher educators Gloria Ladson-Billings (culturally relevant pedagogy), Geneva Gay (culturally responsive teaching), and Django Paris (culturally sustaining pedagogy). Collectively, these scholars promote asset-based approaches as alternatives to standard deficit-oriented teaching methods, which position the languages, cultures, and identities of students as barriers to learning. These frameworks share a common goal: defy the deficit model and ensure students see themselves and their communities reflected and valued in the content taught in school. (Muñiz, 2019)

Culture- System of explicit and implicit rules, shared attitudes, beliefs, norms, perceptions, and behaviors of a group communicated generationally. (Matsumoto, 2000)

Discrimination- The unequal treatment of members of groups based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion and other categories. (Definitions below from Whitley and Kite, 2010)

Blatant Discrimination- Discrimination that consists of unequal and harmful treatment that is typically intentional, quite visible, and easily documented.

Covert Discrimination- Unequal and harmful treatment that is hidden, purposeful, and often maliciously motivated, stemming from conscious attempts to assure failure.

Cultural Discrimination- Within a culture, one group retains the power to define cultural values as well as the form those values take by maintaining dominance over other groups, rewarding those values that correspond to its views, and punishing those values that do not by marginalizing minority ethnic groups and their cultural heritage. As a result, the characteristics and contributions of the systemically dominant group are valued over those of minority or ethnic groups.

Institutionalized Discrimination- The unjust and discriminatory mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals by organizations such as governments and corporations, financial institutions (e.g., banks, investment firms, money markets), public institutions (e.g., schools, police forces, healthcare centers), and other societal entities.

Interpersonal Discrimination- A person treating another individually unfairly because of the person's group membership due to stereotypic beliefs and evaluations.

Organizational Discrimination- The manifestation of institutional discrimination in the context of a particular organization.

Diversity- Includes all the ways in which people differ and encompasses all the characteristics that make one individual or group distinct from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as valued. A broad definition includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. It is important to note that many activists and thinkers critique diversity alone as a strategy. For instance, Baltimore Racial Justice Action states: “Diversity is silent on the subject of equity. In an anti-oppression context, therefore, the issue is not diversity, but rather equity. Often when people talk about diversity, they are thinking only of the ‘non-dominant’ groups.” (Racial Equity Tools, n.d.)

Dog whistle language- Coded or suggestive language that is meaningful to members of a certain group and used in order to solicit support without provoking opposition and/or negative attention.

Emotional tax- A feeling of alienation due to gender, race, ethnicity, or other marginalized identity and the associated effects on health, well-being, and ability to thrive.

Ethnicity- A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical.

Equity- Fairness and justice in the way people are treated. As opposed to equality, which focuses on treating everyone the same, equity recognizes that people face different circumstances and obstacles and must be treated accordingly. The process of achieving equity is continuous and iterative and requires that institutions identify and address systemic barriers faced by members of nondominant groups.

Gaslighting- A form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.

Racelighting- A unique type of gaslighting experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC); “the process whereby People of Color question their own thoughts and actions due to systematically delivered racialized messages that make them second guess their own lived experiences with racism.” (Wood and Harris III, 2021)

Historically marginalized communities- Historically marginalized communities are groups who have been relegated to the lower or peripheral edge of society. Many groups were (and some continue to be) denied full participation in mainstream cultural, social, political, and economic activities. Marginalized communities can include people of color, women, LGBTQ+, low-income individuals, prisoners, the disabled, senior citizens, and many more. Many of these communities were ignored or misrepresented in traditional historical sources. (2018)

Identity- The group memberships (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, etc.), qualities, beliefs, personality, presentation, and/or expressions that define and distinguish an individual.

Inclusion- The practice and/or policy of providing equitable access to opportunities and resources for systemically nondominant and marginalized people.

Intersectionality- A theoretical framework, derived from critical race theory, to describe how axes of oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, classism, transphobia, etc.) are overlapping, cannot be separated from one another, and interact to create unique experiences of discrimination and prejudice. Social and political identities can combine in a multitude of ways, resulting in a particular identity and experience of oppression. (Crenshaw, 1991)

In addition to racism (defined below), the following modes of oppression may intersect (note: this list is not exhaustive; definitions from Merriam-Webster):

Ableism- Discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.

Ageism- Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age group, particularly older people.

Classism- Prejudice, discrimination, or promotion based on social class.

Homophobia- Irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.

Sexism- Prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, including behavior, conditions, and attitude linked to stereotypical social gender roles.

Transphobia- Irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people.

Xenophobia- Fear, hatred, dislike or prejudice against people from other countries.

Implicit bias- The unconscious associations, attitudes, or stereotypes that affect our understandings, actions, and decisions toward any social group.

Intent versus impact- When what we “mean” and “how the message is received” do not align, i.e. one’s communication does not send the message one intended when experienced from the receiver’s standpoint. Focusing on the impact enables us to concentrate on harmful words and/or actions and engage in necessary repair.

Invisible labor- Based on the foundational work of Arlene Daniels and Arlie Hochschild, invisible labor is defined as “activities that occur within the context of paid employment that workers perform in response to requirements (either implicit or explicit) from employers and that are crucial for workers to generate income, to obtain or retain their jobs, and to further their careers, yet are often overlooked, ignored, unpaid, and/or devalued by employers.” These “activities are performed for the benefit of the employer and from which the employer reaps profits.” Invisible labor disproportionately impacts BIPOC and other systemically nondominant workers. (Crain, Poster, and Cherry, 2016)

Land or territory acknowledgment- A formal statement (usually given at the beginning of a session or event) that recognizes the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories and expresses gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory one resides and work on. As settler colonialism is a current ongoing process, land acknowledgments align with established Indigenous protocol, recognize settlers' continued participation in systems of oppression, and challenge participants to confront their complicity and engage in repair. (Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group, n.d.)

Low-income communities- Generally, a Low-Income Community (LIC) is defined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a census tract with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent or a median family income 80 percent or less than the area it is benchmarked against (metropolitan area for metropolitan tracts, state for rural tracts). (Benzow et al., 2022)

Marginalization- The systemic, institutional, and/or interpersonal minimalization of a person, group, or concept as insignificant or peripheral.

Microaggressions (and related terminology)- Brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards BIPOC. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person. (Select definitions below adapted from DeAngelis, 2009)

Microaffirmations- Small yet significant acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening that validate the lived experiences of BIPOC.

Microassaults- Conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, displaying swastikas or deliberately serving a white person before a person of color in a restaurant.

Microinsults- Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person's racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

Microinvalidations- Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, white people often ask Asian-Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

Microresistance- Small individual or collaborative efforts that empower marginalized people and allies to cope with, respond to, and/or challenge microaggressions, with a goal of disrupting oppression as it unfolds in daily life and creating more inclusive institutions.

Minoritization- The status of a group and its members relative to the socially dominant group, wherein minoritized people have less or no meaningful access to institutional power relative to members of the dominant group.

Power- The ability to decide, direct, or influence behaviors and outcomes for oneself or others (see also, Agency). Power is relational and reinforced by conventions, history, institutions, positions, access to resources, and other societal structures and allows dominant groups greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates.

Privilege- Unearned access to resources and benefits only readily available to some people as a result of their membership in a systemically dominant social group.

Prejudice- A judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of toward a particular group and its members. (Definitions below adapted from Whitley and Kite, 2010)

Ambivalent prejudice- A mixture of positive and negative beliefs about and feelings toward another group, resulting in ambivalent attitudes towards members of that group.

Aversive prejudice- A form of prejudice in which people feel uncomfortable interacting with members of minority groups and so avoid contact, while attempting to be polite and correct when contact with members of minority groups is unavoidable.

Benevolent prejudice- A form of prejudice that is expressed in terms of apparently positive beliefs and emotional responses to targets of prejudice. This prejudice often manifests as chivalrous acts towards women or white saviorism.

Hostile prejudice- A traditional form of prejudice expressed in terms of negative beliefs about and emotional responses to the targets of prejudice.

Modern symbolic prejudice- A form of prejudice that avoids blatant derogation of marginalized groups. This prejudice is rooted in abstractions, such as cultural stereotypes, rather than direct experiences with members of those groups.

Oppression- A system that maintains advantage and disadvantage based on social group memberships and operates intentionally and unintentionally, on individual, institutional, and systemic levels.

Positionality- The systemic ways in which social position and access to power shape identities, agency, and access to resources.

Race- The physical differences that groups and cultures consider socially meaningful and significant. Race is not a biological but rather a socially constructed concept.

Racial Equity- Racial equity is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root cause of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or that fail to eliminate them.

Racial or racialized trauma- The cumulative, historical effects of racism on an individual's mental and physical health. Racial trauma has been linked to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, as well as other physical conditions such as high blood pressure. Racial trauma is inflicted upon systemically nondominant groups by people in power.

Racism- The perpetuation of historic, systemic discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Individual or interpersonal racism- An individual's racist assumptions, beliefs, or behaviors that stems from conscious and unconscious personal prejudice. Individual racism is learned from and connected to broader socio-economic histories and supported by systemic racism.

Institutional racism- Laws or policies crafted and enforced through institutions that disproportionately target oppressed BIPOC.

Systemic or structural racism- Policies and practices entrenched in established institutions which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups throughout society.

Redlining- The systematic denial of various services and resources to members of systemically nondominant groups by federal agencies, local governments, and/or the private sector, either directly or through selective manipulation.

Segregation- The systematic separation of people into racial or ethnic groups in daily life, educational systems, geographic areas, and other institutional contexts.

Safe space- In its original intent, this concept speaks to a place or environment in which a person or category of people feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm. Recently, the term has often been co-opted to protect the agency and agent-centric view of systemically dominant groups. It is important that members of dominant groups take care in understanding and using this terminology; “honest space” is a suggested term that may better describe a place where people in dominant groups challenge and push themselves toward growth and to allyship.

Social justice- Movement toward equity regarding the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privilege within a society.

Stereotypes- Oversimplified generalizations about groups of people based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or other facet of identity.

Systemically nondominant- Membership outside of the dominant group within a system of oppression. Systems of oppression are created to provide benefits and assets for members of specific groups. (Jenkins, 2015)

Target- Identifying members of a systemically nondominant group in order to intentionally direct unfounded criticism, offensive speech, and/or harm at those individuals.

Tokenism- Perfunctory or symbolic efforts to be inclusive in order to quiet criticism or give the appearance of an equitable environment, e.g. inviting members of systemically nondominant communities to be present without creating mechanisms to enable their meaningful participation.

Tone policing- A silencing tactic used in discussions and/or arguments that focuses on the emotion behind a message rather than the message itself.

Trigger- Words, actions, or experiences that, when perceived by an affected individual, causes physical and/or emotional distress by arousing feelings and/or memories of a traumatic event(s).

Trigger or content warning- Verbal and/or written notice preceding potentially sensitive or triggering content in order to enable participants to engage with that content consensually or avoid the content as needed.

White habitus- A racialized, uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates whites’ racial taste, perceptions, feelings, and emotions as well as their views on racial matters.

White privilege- The level of societal advantage that accompanies membership in the systemically dominant group; a right, advantage, or immunity granted to and/or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption, in many cases, from certain burdens or liabilities. The acknowledgment of white privilege does not imply that white people do not face challenges or inequities.

White supremacy culture- An artificial, historically constructed culture which expresses, justifies and connects the United States white supremacy system. It is the glue that binds together white-controlled institutions into systems and white-controlled systems into the global white supremacy system. (Jones & Okun, 2001)


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