Community and Belonging

Diversity & Equity Glossary of Terms

This glossary of terms was formatted and adapted by the Office for Diversity & Inclusive Excellence Education (ODIE) using a number of resources, including other universities/colleges, and the wisdom and experience of various people engaged in social justice. This glossary is a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, listing of the terminology used in our conversations about diversity and equity. Because language is a reflection of the lived experience, many of these words and terms will continue to evolve as the lived experience evolves. Even so, it is still useful to have a reference that provides basic working definitions to facilitate shared discussions. It is a work in progress, so please share your ideas and suggestions with us for this glossary, by emailing

Agency: the ability to act independently and make free choices; the ability to make conscious decisions for oneself.

Ally: Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways.

Code-switching: The conscious or unconscious act of ‘switching’ between two languages, dialects, or intonations depending on the specific situation of who one is speaking to, what is being discussed, and the relationship and power and/or community dynamics between those involved.

Colorblind: The belief that everyone should be treated “equally” without respect to societal, economic, historical, racial, or other differences. No differences are seen or acknowledged; everyone's the same.

Colonization: Invasion, dispossession, and subjugation of a people. The invasion need not be military; it can begin — or continue — as a geographical intrusion in the form of agricultural, urban, or industrial encroachments. The result of such incursion is the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact. The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized.

Critical race theory: Refers to a critical analysis of race and racism that examines the intersection of race, law, and power. Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and principles of constitutional law.

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

Cultural racism: Cultural racism refers to representations, messages, and stories conveying the idea that behaviors and values associated with the dominant societal group, generally identified as White, are automatically “better” or more “normal” than those associated with subordinate groups, generally other racially defined groups. It is a powerful force in maintaining systems of internalized supremacy and internalized racism by influencing collective beliefs about what constitutes appropriate and valued behavior, status, expression, or lifestyle. All of these cultural norms and values in the United States have explicitly or implicitly racialized ideals and assumptions. 

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

Discrimination: Actions stemming from conscious or unconscious prejudice, which favor and empower one group over others based on differences of race, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, language, age, national identity, religion, and other categories.

Disenfranchised: Being deprived of power and/or access to rights, opportunities, and services.

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

Ethnicity: A socially constructed grouping of people who share a common cultural heritage derived from values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, geographical base, and ancestry. Examples include: Cape Verdean, Haitian, African American (Black); Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese (Asian); Cherokee, Mohawk, Navajo (Native American); Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican (Latino); Polish, Irish, and Swedish (White European) 

Ethnocentrism: Consciously or unconsciously privileging one’s own ethnic group over others; assuming or judging other groups according to one’s own group values.

Eurocentrism: 1. The process and product of the cultural default of Whiteness. 2. The utilization of European cultural standards as universal standards that all should be judged by. 3. To orient to European people and cultures as the benchmark of humanity, culture, truth, virtue, style, beauty, civility, knowledge, and ethics; a deification of European people and their cultures.

F to M/FTM/F2M: The abbreviation for female to male, used to specify the direction of sex or gender role change, usually used by those who identify as transgender. 

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

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

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

Gentrification: Demographic shifts that usually occur in big cities in which upper-middle class and/or racially privileged individuals and businesses move into historically working class and poor and/or racially oppressed neighborhoods and communities.

Hate crime: A person commits a hate crime when he or she or they commits a specified offense and either: (a.) intentionally selects the person against whom the offense is committed or intended to be committed in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct; or, (b.) intentionally commits the act or acts constituting the offense in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.

Hegemony: One group or community holding all authoritative power or dominance over other groups in a given society, geographical region, and/or political system.

Heteronormativity: A socially constructed assumption that heterosexuality is the natural norm from which all other sexual preferences deviate; the assumption that everyone identifies as heterosexual until shown or proven otherwise.

Implicit bias: Negative associations expressed automatically that people unknowingly hold; also known as unconscious or hidden bias. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to trump individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that people may profess. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is often used to measure implicit biases with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and other topics.

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

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

Individual racism: Refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals who support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be deliberate, or the individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing what he or she is doing; for example, telling a racist joke or believing in the inherent superiority of Whites over other groups. 

Institutional racism: Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups but always benefitting the dominant group. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for Whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color: for example, city sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.

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

Internalized racism: The situation that occurs in a racist system when a racial group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of the dominating group by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures, and ideologies that undergird the dominating group's power. 

  • Resources - broadly defined assets (e.g. money, time, etc.) that are unequally in the hands, and under the control, of White people. Internalized racism is the system in place that makes it difficult for people of color to get access to resources for their own communities and to control the resources of their community. 

  • Standards - With internalized racism, the standards for what is appropriate or "normal" that people of color accept are those of the dominant group or White/Eurocentric standards. People of color have difficulty naming, communicating, and living up to their deepest standards and values, and holding themselves and each other accountable to them. 

  • Naming the problem - There is a system in place that misnames the problem of racism as a problem of or caused by people of color and blames the disease - emotional, economic, political, etc. - on people of color. With internalized racism, people of color might, for example, believe they are more violent than White people and not consider state-sanctioned political violence or the hidden or privatized violence of White power. 

Interpersonal racism: When private beliefs are put in interaction with others, racism resides in the interpersonal realm: for example, a public expression of racial prejudice, hate, bias, and bigotry between individuals. 

Intersectionality: An approach largely advanced by women of color, 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.

Ism: A social phenomenon and psychological state where prejudice is accompanied by the power to systemically enact it.

M to F/MTF/M2F: An abbreviation for male to female, used to specify the direction of sex or gender role change, usually used by those who identify as transgender.

Majoritized population: 1. A community of people whose access to institutional and structural power has been structurally guaranteed, regardless of the size of the population. As a result, the community routinely disenfranchises and disempowers the most vulnerable communities known as the minoritized populations. 2. Also referred to as a dominant population.

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

Mediation: A conflict resolution process in which a neutral mediator assists the parties through constructive discussion and negotiation of their issues in order to reach a mutually acceptable resolution. 

Microaggression: Subconscious and often well-meaning actions or remarks that convey an unconscious bias and hurt the person at the receiving end.

Minoritized population: 1. A community of people whose access to institutional and structural power has been severely limited regardless of the size of the population. As a result, the community is constantly being disenfranchised and disempowered by the Majoritized population. 2. Also referred to as a subordinated population.

Model minority: Refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average and who are assumed by the dominant group to be a model of assimilation for other marginalized groups. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.

Oppression: The use of power to disenfranchise and marginalize groups of people, usually people of color, for the benefit of another, usually Whites, in order to dominate the culture and society. It may also be defined as the use of institutional power and privilege for domination. 

Patriarchy: A social system and institution in which men have primary power in the political, social, economic, legal, and familial spheres; patriarchy favors male-dominated thought, and is centralized on the male narrative or perspective of how the world works and should work.

People of color (POC): A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latinx, and Native American backgrounds; as opposed to the collective "White" for those of European ancestry.

Post-Racial: 1. A belief that we as a society have moved beyond race; that race and racism are no longer relevant because as a society we have addressed all of the racialized barriers to full and equal participation in American society. 2. The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States marks for many the moment America became a post-racial society.

Power: Power is unequally distributed globally and in U.S. society; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access to and control over resources. Wealth, Whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates.

Each of these definitions of power can manifest on personal, social, institutional,  or  structural levels:

  • Personal power: 1. Self-determination. 2. Power that an individual possesses or builds in their personal life and interpersonal relationships. Example: When a person chooses a new name for themselves rather than the one given to them, this is an act of personal power. 

  • Social power: 1. Communal self-determination. 2. A grassroots collective organization of personal power. 3. Power that social groups possess or build among themselves to determine and shape their collective lives. Example: Over the last few years individuals who identify as multiracial or multiethnic have used their social power to name themselves into existence and build a community around the shared experience of being multiracial or multiethnic. The growing social power of the multiracial/ multiethnic community is a direct challenge to institutions premised on a binary understanding of race (i.e., you are either this or that.) 

  • Institutional power: 1. Power to create and shape the rules, policies, and actions of an institution. 2. To have institutional power is to be a decision-maker or to have great influence upon a decision-maker of an institution. Example: A college administrator or faculty may have institutional power at that college/university. 

  • Structural power: To have structural power is to create and shape the rules, policies, and actions that govern multiple and intersecting institutions or industry. Example: The Department of Education  has structural power in the educational industry

Prejudice: A pre-judgment or unjustifiable, and usually negative, attitude of one type of individual or group 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 can refer to anyone who transgresses society's view of gender or sexuality. The definitional indeterminacy of the word Queer, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics: "A zone of possibilities."

Race: An historical and political construction created to concentrate power with White people and legitimize dominance over non-White people. 

Racial and ethnic identity: An individual's awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe him or herself based on such factors as biological heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization, and personal experience.

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

Racial profiling: 1. A form of racialized community violence. 2. Structural and institutional racial xenophobia. 3. Refers to the practice of a law enforcement agent or agency relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine or investigatory activities such as traffic stops, searches, and seizures. 4. A manifestation of racial.

Racism: Individual, cultural, institutional, and systemic ways by which differential consequences are created for groups historically or currently defined as being advantaged, and groups historically or currently defined as disadvantaged or non-White (African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, etc.). Racism may also be said to be prejudice plus power. The relationship and behavior of these interdependent elements have allowed racism to recreate itself generation after generation, such that systems that perpetuate racial inequity no longer need racist actors or to explicitly promote racial differences in opportunities, outcomes, and consequences to maintain those differences.

Racialization: 1. The ongoing process by which we all are shaped by racial grouping or “racialized” by structural policies/practices, institutional/organizational cultures, and interpersonal interactions. 2. Our daily experiences of being “raced” or “racialized.” 3. An acknowledgment that these daily experiences look and are experienced differently across various communities and categories of identity.

Restorative Practices: Are designed to bring people together who have been involved in a conflict, to explore how everyone was affected, and to discuss ways to repair the harm and make things right. The conditions which must be met are: (1) all parties are willing to participate voluntarily and (2) precautions are taken to reduce the risk of retraumatization of those who have been harmed (PiRi 2020)

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

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 inflammatory.

Stereotype threat: The risk of internalizing and confirming others’ negative biases towards one’s social group

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 encompasses the entire system of White domination, diffused, and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. 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.

White guilt: The individual or collective guilt felt by some white people for the historical and current oppression experienced by people of color; though white guilt has been described as being a detrimental consequence of racism, experiences associated with white guilt are not comparable to the experiences of systemic oppression faced by marginalized communities.

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. Structural White Privilege: A system of White domination that creates and maintains belief systems that make current racial advantages and disadvantages seem normal. The system includes powerful incentives for maintaining White privilege and its consequences and powerful negative consequences for trying to interrupt White privilege or reduce its consequences in meaningful ways. The system includes internal and external manifestations at the individual, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional levels. The accumulated and interrelated advantages and disadvantages of White privilege are reflected in racial/ethnic inequities in life- expectancy and other health outcomes, income and wealth, and other outcomes, and through differential access to opportunities and resources. These differences are maintained in part by denying that these advantages and disadvantages exist at the structural, institutional, cultural, interpersonal, and individual levels and by refusing to redress them or eliminate the systems, policies, practices, cultural norms, and other behaviors and assumptions that maintain them.

  • Interpersonal white privilege: Behavior between people that consciously or unconsciously reflects White superiority or entitlement.

  • Cultural white privilege: A set of dominant cultural assumptions about what is good, normal, or appropriate that reflects Western European White world views and dismisses or demonizes other worldviews.

  • Institutional white privilege: Policies, practices, and behaviors of institutions — such as schools, banks, non-profits, or courts — that have the effect of maintaining or increasing accumulated advantages for those groups currently defined as White, and maintaining or increasing disadvantages for those racial or ethnic groups not defined as White. The ability of institutions to survive and thrive even when their policies, practices, and behaviors maintain, expand, or fail to redress accumulated disadvantages and/or inequitable outcomes for people of color.

Whiteness: Like race, whiteness is a social construct rather than an essential characteristic or biological fact; is used as cultural property, and can be seen to provide material and/or social privilege to those who are considered white, pass as white, or are given honorary white status.

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.