Inclusive Language Guide

At its heart, inclusive language respects, and conveys respect to, people of all backgrounds, experiences, and identities. It avoids assumptions about people described by communications or about readers who are consuming the information. All writing should be free of words, phrases, tone, or implication (intended or otherwise) that exclude, demean, insult, diminish, or otherwise fail to value a person or group because of a particular attribute; that derive from stereotypes; and/or that are no longer acceptable, regardless of whether they were once used commonly.

Be mindful about any individual or group that is being represented in university communications, particularly those who come from an underrepresented population. Recognize that preferred language may vary among individuals within a particular community and that no one person represents all members of a particular community. When possible and reasonable, consult with anyone that is a subject of university communications about how they are represented.

Two rules of thumb are particularly helpful:

  • When considering whether and how to describe someone, first ask yourself, “Is this information necessary for the story or message I am conveying?”
  • When possible, ask people how they prefer to be identified.

It is important to recognize that knowledge and awareness shift, that language is fluid and ever-changing, and that terminology can be contested. This guide is not meant to be comprehensive or rigid; its goal is to create a flexible framework based on the institution’s values to foster communication that is respectful, inclusive, and empowering.


The following are general guidelines for developing university communications that reflect institutional values. See the Sources Consulted section below for additional guidance.

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  • General
    • Consider context when deciding whether to include information about one or more of a person’s identities, including age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, veteran status, religion, or any other trait. In some contexts, including one or more such traits can be important for the communication and empowering to the person and our community. In other contexts, however, it might feed a stereotype, place emphasis on something not relevant, imply otherness, be discriminatory, or be simply unnecessary.
    • When it is important to include elements that are part of a person’s identity or condition, focus on the person, not the identity or condition. For example:
      • “Children who live in poverty” not “poor children”
      • “A person with a drug addiction” not “a drug addict”
    • Recognize that people who share common experiences can have variety of perspectives and worldviews. For example, students within a particular major or from a similar background can have diverse political opinions, experiences, and cultural referents, or people who are recent immigrants can have a variety of perspectives on U.S. immigration policy. Avoid assumptions, generalizations, and stereotyping.
    • Use consistent categories when listing items in a series. For example:
      • “Spain, France, Brazil, and Ghana” not “Spain, France, Brazil, and Africa”
  • Race, ethnicity, country of origin, and religious affiliation
    • Discuss a person’s or group of people’s race or ethnicity only when it is relevant to the story. When it is appropriate to include this information, prefer terms such as “under-represented,” “historically underrepresented,” or “person of color” rather than terms such as “minority.” Whenever possible, use more specific terminology (e.g., “African American,” “Muslim,” or “Latinx”).
    • Identify individuals as specifically as possible. For example:
      • “Japanese” rather than “Asian”
      • “Dominican” rather than “Hispanic”
      • Consult with style guides to be sure you are using the appropriate names of nationalities, places, and racial and ethnic groups, and of course, ask the person how they prefer to be identified when possible.
    • Recognize differences within groups. For example, people who identify as Muslim, Latinx, Jewish, and in many other ways can come from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds and national origins. People within the same religious tradition can hold a wide range of views, and people who have immigrated from one place to another can have a wide range of experiences and perspectives.
  • Sex, sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression
    • Discuss a person’s sex, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression only when relevant to the story.
    • The use of “they,” “their,” and “them” as gender-neutral singular pronouns in writing has become widespread, and these pronouns are equally as acceptable as their gender-specific counterparts. When possible, ask a person whom you are interviewing directly what pronouns they prefer you use. If you cannot ask, follow the guidance provided by GLAAD (see Sources), and use the pronoun that is most consistent with the person’s gender expression or the singular “they.”
    • Terminology related to sex and gender continues to evolve. The following definitions draw heavily from, and use language found in, guidance available in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.
      • “Sex” is generally used as a biological term and is applied to people at birth based on physiological characteristics.
      • “Gender” refers to a person’s innate sense of feeling like a man, a woman, both, or neither. “Gender” and “sex” are not interchangeable terms. Use “male” and “female” as adjectives in the context of writing about sex; do not use them as nouns to indicate gender.
      • “Gender identity” refers to a person’s internal, deeply held sense of gender and may or may not be visible to others.
      • “Gender expression” refers to the outward manifestation of a gender identity and may or may not align with conventional ideas about that gender identity.
      • “Transgender” is a broad term that describes people who have a gender identity and/or expression that differs from the characteristics typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender should be used as an adjective (“a transgender woman”) but not a noun (e.g., saying a person “is a transgender”).
      • “Gender expansive” describes people whose gender expression differs from traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. “Gender nonconforming,” “nonbinary,” and “genderqueer” are also terms sometimes used by people who experience their gender identity or expression outside of the categories of man and woman.

    A person’s gender identity and gender expression are independent of their sexuality, which refers to their expression of sexual interest.

    • When including information about a person’s sexuality, be as specific as possible. Generally speaking, “gay” is an adjective used to describe a man or woman attracted to people of the same gender. “Lesbian” is a noun or adjective that refers specifically to a woman attracted to women. “Bisexual” refers to a person attracted to both men and women. Do not use the outdated term “homosexual.” When possible, ask the person how they prefer to be identified.
    • Avoid using gender-specific pronouns or identities in ways that suggest a particular activity, profession, or other external condition is associated with a particular gender. For example:
      • “Deans should consider their faculties’ needs” not “A dean should consider his faculty’s needs”
      • “Like an energetic cheerleader” not “Like a cheerleader at her most energetic”
  • People with disabilities
    • Consider carefully whether information about a person’s disability is important to the story you are telling. Ask about terminology, and be clear in your descriptions. Focus the story on the person, not the condition.
    • When writing about a person with a disability, use language that focuses on ability (e.g., “accessible parking” rather than “handicap parking”).
    • Avoid negative language (e.g., “stricken” or “victim”), and do not use “normal” or “healthy” to contrast people who lack an identified or visible disability.
  • People who have experienced power-based interpersonal violence
    • Approach stories about people who have experienced sexual assault and other forms of power-based interpersonal violence with great sensitivity and care. Be mindful that people of all genders can experience sexual violence, and avoid normative pronouns and any language that stereotypes survivors.
    • Avoid words and sentence constructions that communicate powerlessness, cast doubt, or place blame on an assault survivor.
      • People’s preferences and experiences differ. Use terms such as “survivor” and “victim” with care and in consultation with the person being written about. If consultation is not possible, use “survivor,” as it carries less connotation of the absence of power.
      • Use neutral language such as “said” or “reported” rather than language that casts doubt or connotes shame, such as “accused,” “alleged,” or “admitted.”
      • Use active voice rather than passive voice to reinforce that responsibility for an attack lies with the attacker (e.g., “His assailant raped him” rather than “She was raped”).
      • Avoid language that is sensational (e.g., “scandal” or “controversy”), that suggests a survivor chose to participate in an attack (“performed oral sex”), or that suggests a survivor is responsible for an attack because of who they are, what they were wearing or doing at the time of the attack, or for any other reason.

Sources Consulted

Additional, more detailed guidelines are available from multiple sources, including these sources consulted for the creation of this guide. They may be especially helpful:

If you have further questions, please contact Glyn Hughes, director of institutional equity and inclusion.