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In talking about issues of diversity, a common language is essential to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Words often have different meanings for different people, based on their cultural and professional backgrounds and experiences.

The purpose of this glossary, which is a work in progress, is to integrate terms from different domains: social justice, psychology, sociology, education, and the professional world, to avoid such misunderstandings. Not everyone will agree with every definition; but everyone should have a common understanding of how words are being used in particular circumstances.


Able-bodied (adj.) having a strong, sound body (Merriam-Webster 2016)

Ableism (n.) discrimination or prejudice against individuals with mental or physical disabilities and/or social structures that favor able-bodied individuals 

Affinity Group (n.) groups at corporations also known as employee groups or employee resource groups (ERGs). At non-profit organizations they can be called caucuses.

Ageism (n.) prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly 


Baby Boomers (n.) a time when there was a large increase in birth rates following World War II. Individuals born between mid-1946 to 1964. It is one of the largest generations in U.S. history. (

Belongingness – “entails an unwavering commitment to not simply tolerating and respecting difference but to ensuring that all people are welcome and feel that they belong in the society.” james a. powell

Biracial (adj.) belonging to two or more ethnic categories.

Bisexual, bisexuality (n. adj.) someone who is sexually attracted to both the female or male sex, sexually attracted to both the female or male sex.


Caucasian (adj., n.) of or relating to the Caucasus (a region of south east Europe between the Black and Caspian seas — Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, northern Turkey) or its inhabitants. Term used to refer to a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia, characterized by light to brown skin. In the U.S. it is often used interchangeably with “white.” Caucasian race was coined by German philosopher Christoph Meiners in 1785 to define one of two races: Caucasians and Mongolians. [videoThe Surprisingly Racist History of “Caucasian” | Decoded | MTV News]

Cisgender (adj.) of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.

Council (n) a circle form of communication and wisdom sharing practiced by virtually all indigenous people from around the world. In the practice of Council, each person learns to offer their personal story from their heart, not their head, and to listen with full attention. [See Ojai Foundation, restorative justice, council in schools) 

Cultural Competence (n.) a defined set of values and principles, and behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable people to work effectively cross-culturally.

Cultural Humility (n.) is the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the person.” Three factors of cultural humility:

    1. Lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique
    2. Fix power imbalances
    3. Develop partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others

(Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington Jr., E. L., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology)

Cultural humility vs. Cultural Competence: Whereas humility is more about being open to the not-knowing and complexity of what is happening interpersonally, competence is more focused on reaching a state of all-knowing. [video: Cultural humility vs. cultural competence]


Discrimination (n.) discriminating categorically (race, age, sex, etc) rather than individually; prejudiced actions. A bias in behavioral form.


Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) See Affinity Groups



Gender (n.) a social construction of one’s sexual classification of the categories of “men” and “women.” Refers to the normative qualities accompanying one’s biological sex.

Gender Identity (n.) an individual’s internal sense of being male or female. This may be different from one’s gender assigned at birth. See Trans.

Gender Nonconforming (adj.) term for people who do not follow the normative ideas, stereotypical behaviors and appearances of being of the female or male sex. (Ex. a female bodied person who has a “masculine” haircut and does not shave their legs and or under arms.)

Genderqueer (adj., n.) denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.


Hispanic (adj.) According to the U.S. Census, people who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves as Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano or Puerto Rican or Cuban or Spanish origin. “Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s ancestors before arrival in the United States.” Hispanic is an ethnicity and people who identify as Hispanic may be of any race. (U.S. Census)

Human Rights (n.) In response to WWII, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stated that there are rights that all human beings are inherently entitled and protected by law.


Intent vs. Impact: Your action may be received by the other as different from your intention as a result of numerous reasons. Some reasons include, but are not limited to, a difference in culture, language, social status, and social group. (Ex. As a sign of respect you avert your eyes when giving feedback, however, it is interpreted by the other as a sign of insincerity. In some cultures like Japan and Mexico, individuals avert direct eye contact as a sign of respect, whereas in the U.S. direct eye contact is preferred.) Article: 7 Reasons why your impact may be different than you intended

Intergroup Conflict (n.) Because not all groups have equal social privilege, groups can easily come into tension with each other. When this happens, our sense of self can become identified with a group identity. For example, when a male friend says to a female friend, “My wife is being irrational” that female friend may feel suddenly aligned with her social group of “women”, and become angry at her male friend. Her social identity of “woman” became salient.




Liminality (n.) a state of betwixt and between (Victor Turner, 1977). Liminality is not a term you will find in a dictionary, at least during the time of writing this (9/2016). However, you can find the adjectival form, liminal, meaning “of or relating to a sensory threshold” (def. 1), “barely perceptible” (def. 2) and “of relating, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition” (Def. 3).

Liminality is commonly known from the work of anthropologist Victor Turner who described initiation ceremonies having three stages: separation, liminality (or margin, and reincorporation (or aggregation). In the case of boys transitioning to men, the boys are first separated from their mothers. When they were all gathered for the ritual they are separated from their social status and entered a liminal period, wherein they are “betwixt and between”. Following the liminal phase, the initiate is then returned to society and is seen as a man.

Those passing through the second phase are ambiguous and elude classification that normally locates individuals in a cultural space. This is a state of transition—a movement from one state to another—that sometimes lasts longer than expected. However, it is a process that has a beginning and an end.

Liminal Identity (n., adj.) Liminal Identity is when identity rests in our multiplicity rather than in a single identity. In a world that prefers binary identity, those whose identity lives in this in-between space feel pressure to claim one end of the polarity and reject the other. Rather than being a transitional space, the liminal is, for these individuals, a permanent home (Okawa/Enders, 2011). (e.g. biracial, bicultural, mixed-ethnicity, genderqueer, bisexual, intersex, trans, etc.)

Liminal Space (n.) a space where people can gather outside of their day-to-day activities in community. Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) calls this “nepantla” the Aztec preconquest word “meaning a netherworld between the living and the dead.” (p.135). In Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman’s book Toward Psychologies of Liberation, they wrote that when a community has no escape from the structures and routines of work and householding, people become significantly exhausted and stressed. Without organized liminal spaces there is no place to process rupture.

I believe with the popularity of the annual festival Burning Man in the Nevada desert, and similar festivals, people are getting access to liminal spaces.


Microaggression (n.) “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.” Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: race gender, and sexual orientation. New York: J. Wiley.

The term “racial microaggressions” was first coined in the 1970s by a professor named Chester M. Pierce. As visible by the term, his focus was on race, specifically toward Black American students. Later, psychologist Derald Wing Sue expanded the term microaggressions to include gender, sexual orientation, and disability (view 5-min video).

Micro-Assaults (n.) “blatant verbal, nonverbal, or environmental attack intended to convey discriminatory and biased sentiments.” (Sue et al., 2008, p 111)

    1. Using epithets like faggot, nip, spic
    2. Catcalling (Men to women)
    3. Can happen when people lose control of their emotions and actions (e.g. Mel Gibson’s anti-semitic rant, Michael Richards from the show Seinfeld insulting African-American audience member—his apology)
    4. Easier to address because they are so visibly aggressive

Micro-insults (n.)  “unintentional behaviors or verbal comments that convey rudeness or insensitivity or demean a person’s racial heritage identity, gender identity, or sexual orientation identity. Despite being outside the level of conscious awareness, these subtle snubs are characterized by an insulting hidden message.” (Sue et al., 2008, p 111)

Microinvalidations (n.) “verbal comments or behaviors that exclude, negate, or dismiss the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of the target group…They are unintentional and usually outside the perpetrator’s awareness.” (Sue et al., 2008, p. 112)

Micro-inequities (n.) These are similar to microaggressions in that these behaviors are cumulative, harmful, and communicate to the other that they are less than. The term was coined in 1973 by Mary Rowe.

Micro-advantages (n.) are positive micro-messages that are “subtle, often unconscious, messages that motivate, inspire and enhance workplace performance.” People of the dominant social group receive these automatically and regularly and those in the non-dominant group rarely do. (Wikipedia)


Neurodiverse, neurodiversity – the diversity of our human minds and brains. The full spectrum of human neurocognitive variation. (Nick Walker

“an idea which asserts that atypical (neurodivergent) neurological development is a normal human difference that is to be recognized and respected as any other human variation.” Thomas Armstrong, PhD

Neurodiversity Movement (n.) “is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent.” (Nick Walker

Neurodiversity Paradigm (n.)

  1. There is a full spectrum of human neurocognitive variation (neurodiversity)
  2. There isn’t a “right” or “normal” type of brain, like there isn’t a “right” or “normal” type of ethnicity or gender.
  3. Like with other forms of diversity (e.g. ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) there exists inequity, privilege, oppression, and discrimination by way of social power given to the normative group (neurotypical). (Nick Walker

Neurodivergent (ND) (adj.) “means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal.’” (e.g. autism, epilepsy, dyslexic, ADD, ADHD) Coined by Kassiane Sibley a neurodivergent activist.

Neurotypical (NT) (n.) (adj.) “means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of ‘normal.’” (Nick Walker

Normative (adj.) “based on what is considered to be the usual or correct way of doing something” (Merriam-Webster 2016)

Norms (n.) See Social norms


Othering (n?v?) a “set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities.” (john a. powell)


Prejudice (n.) preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude. Therefore, someone can be prejudiced towards a certain group but not discriminate against them. A bias in emotional form.


Queer (adj.) an umbrella term that can refer to anyone who does not feel their identity fits the binary of gay/straight or male/female. See bisexual, genderqueer.


Race (n.) A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color and hair type), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, and ethnic classification. In U.S. history, racial categories have changed over the decades.


Stereotype (n.) A standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. A bias in cognitive form.



Unconscious Bias (n.) Unconscious biases are hidden preferences and prejudices that operate at the subconscious level, and are established by the culture we live in (i.e. stereotypes). These biases are challenging to uncover not just because they are imprinted at an early age, but also because they often go against what we consciously believe is true or right. Also known as Implicit Bias.