Inclusive Language

The University of Oregon is committed to creating an inclusive, welcoming, and equitable learning environment for every member of our academic community. Our community values and celebrates the diversity of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and our academic mission of teaching, research, and service is greatly enriched by our diversity of thought, experience, perspective, culture, and background.

The language we use when speaking about diversity and inclusivity matters. This guide can act as a point of reference for the way we communicate about diversity and inclusivity. It is not meant to be rigid, exhaustive, or definitive. The goal is to create a flexible framework for using language that is empowering and respectful.

In addition to this guide, further assistance is available through staff members in University Communications and the Division of Equity and Inclusion. If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask. Also, make use of online resources such as The Chicago Manual of Style, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, or The Associated Press Stylebook, and diversity glossaries online such as Diversity and Social Justice: A Glossary of Working Definitions by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell or the Sierra Club’s Glossary of Terms for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

What Is Inclusive Language?

For communication to be effective, it needs to appropriately address all audiences for which it is intended. Inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equitable opportunities. This refers to language used in emails, marketing material, social media, websites, and other forms of communication. All work should be free from words, phrases, or tones that demean, insult, or exclude people based on their membership within a certain group or because of a particular attribute.

But we also know that language is fluid. The meaning and connotations of words can change rapidly. It is more important to apply inclusive language principles rather than learning specific appropriate phrases, as these may change in meaning over time.

It is important to consult, as much as possible and is reasonable, with any individual or group that is a subject of any communications work, particularly those from any underrepresented populations. In addition, preferred language and terminology may vary among individuals, including those from a specific group (e.g., Latino, Latina, or Latinx). Do not assume one person represents all members of a particular community but acknowledge their experience and knowledge as a member of that community. When appropriate, make reference that the descriptive terminology you are using is at the bequest of a particular individual or group.

Guidelines

Here are some best practices and general guidelines for communication that reflects the university’s commitment to equity and inclusion.

  • Look for authentic ways to include, portray, and integrate equity and inclusion issues and diverse populations into stories, written materials, websites, and all other communications.
  • Do not use offensive and derogatory terms, including such terms derived from the identity of a specific group (such as “Indian giver,” “gypped,” or “Jewed”), outdated terms (such as “crippled”), or overly clinical or medicalized terminology (such as “homosexual”). If you are uncertain of whether a term is derogatory, seek appropriate input.
     
  • Terminology that refers to attributes or identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, age, or immigration or veteran status can adversely overemphasize an identity, feed stereotypes, or be discriminatory.
     
  • Conversely, there are times when noting a person’s identity or attribute can be an important affirmation and recognition and needs to be included.
     
  • Consider context. For example, would you include a particular characteristic or identity for any group? What is being accomplished by noting the characteristic or identity? Would you use the term “white professor” or “heterosexual musician” in this specific context?
     
  • If it is relevant and important to distinguish elements of a person’s identity, focus on the person, not the identity. For example:
     
    • “A baby with Down syndrome” not “a Down’s baby.”
    • “A person living on a subsistence-level income” instead of “Jane Doe is low-income.”
       
  • When possible, be as specific as you can to describe people. For example:
     
    •  “Chinese” rather than “Asian”
    •  “Guatemalan” instead of “Hispanic”
    •  “Lesbian” or “transgender” rather than “LGBTQIA.”
    • When in doubt, ask a person how they would like to be identified, which includes what pronouns they prefer.
    • Consult with the appropriate style guide for the type of writing you are doing to determine how best to identify the proper names of nationalities, peoples, and races.
       
  • Make room for a person’s complex identity and the complexity of different communities. For example:
     
    • A veteran or a person who uses a wheelchair may also be part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender communities.
    • Muslims, Latinos, Jews, and others may be from many different races, ethnicities, or geographic origins.
       
  • Weigh the use of general or specific terms when referencing places of worship, events, or holidays, so as not to exclude any group or perspective, but be specific when the instance requires. For example:
     
    • When discussing religious buildings or institutions generally, use a general term such as place of worship or house of prayer; if a religion is specified, use the particular term (such as mosque, synagogue, church, chapel, and so forth).
    • When discussing the calendar or date ranges, reference the season of the year (e.g., winter) rather than a specific holiday; if a religious holiday is specified, use the particular term (such as Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, or Eid al-Fitr).