We’re here to help define some of the common terms you’ll hear related to the issues of diversity, bias, and inclusion. It’s important to make sure we fully understand them and the way they fit in our our interactions with others.


Having the mental and/or physical capacity to engage in one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, or caring for oneself.


Appreciating and welcoming others for who they are as individuals without judgment. When we accept someone, it shows that we value and respect their identity (“who they are”).


Intentionally designing experiences (such as a building, recreational facility, program, activity, or online resource) to be easily usable for individuals with disabilities. For example, creating an accessible pool could include incorporating pool lifts or sloped entries.


A person from one identity group who speaks out or takes action in support of individuals from another group.


A preference for or against an individual or group that interferes with or influences fair judgment. Bias can be both conscious and unconscious. For more information on unconscious bias, check out the definition for implicit bias.

Cultural appropriation

The act of using elements of a culture that are not your own (e.g. clothing, symbols, ideas) without demonstrating understanding, respect, or reverence for the culture’s history, experience, wishes, or traditions.

Cultural competence

The ability to interact effectively with people of diverse backgrounds and different identity groups by being sensitive, appreciative, respectful, and responsive to beliefs, practices, and cultural needs that are different from your own.


A mental or physical condition that restricts an individual’s ability to engage in one or more major life activities (e.g. seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, communicating, sensing, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, working, or caring for oneself). When discussing people with disabilities, it is important to use “person first” language that avoids defining an individual by their disability by placing the reference to a disability after the reference to a person (e.g. “a person with a disability”, rather than “a disabled person”).


Unfavorable or unfair treatment of an individual or group based on identity labels such as race, ethnicity, skin color, religion, age, gender, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

SOURCE: Sierra Club


Differences in cultures, abilities, ideas, philosophies, backgrounds, and histories that exist among individuals.


When everyone gets what they need in order to have access, opportunities, and a fair chance to succeed. Equity recognizes that the idea of equality (“the same for everyone”) may not address widespread disparities and individual circumstances where individualized solutions are necessary.


A social construct about the roles, behaviors, and actions men and women perform in a society. The attitudes, customs, and values associated with gender are learned and are not something we are innately born with.

Gender identity

How a person defines and conceptualizes their own gender. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM: Sierra Club, Education Glossary Terms, Anti-Defamation League, 2018

Identity group

A group, culture, or community where an individual shares a sense of belonging based on physical, social, or philosophical characteristics. It is likely that each of us belongs to many identity groups based on gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and age.

SOURCE: Sierra Club, Central Michigan University

Implicit bias (unconscious bias)

The assumptions, stereotypes, and unintentional actions (positive or negative) we make towards others based on identity labels like race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Because our implicit associations are stored in our subconscious, we may act on our biases without even realizing it. Often, our implicit biases contradict our values.


Supporting and embracing diversity in a way that clearly shows all individuals are valued, recognized, and accepted for who they truly are. This involves demonstrating respect for the abilities, beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures of those around you and engaging those with diverse perspectives, so that others feel an unconditional sense of belonging for who they are.


The idea that people whose individual identities overlap with a number of marginalized groups experience multiple, overlapping threats of discrimination.

SOURCE: Merriam-Webster,


Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The term is often used to refer to the community as a whole. Other common variations of LGBT include LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, and LGBTQIA+ which include individuals who identify as queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and more.


The process of putting or keeping someone (or a group of people) in a powerless position within a society by not giving them an active voice, identity, or place within it. Marginalization can show up in subtle or overt actions, such as using derogatory language, assuming someone’s accomplishments are not based on merit, and expecting individuals to act a certain way based on stereotypes.

SOURCE: Syracuse University Counseling Center, Merriam-Webster


The everyday slights, put-downs, and insults that marginalized people experience in their daily interactions. Microaggressions are often linked to our implicit biases, occur outside of our consciousness, and may be unintentional. Microaggressions may occur verbally (“you speak good English”) or nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly when passing someone on the street) and can make people feel ashamed and dehumanized.

People of Color (POC)

A phrase used to identify individuals who belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. Those identities can include, but are not limited to Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Pacific Islander.


The idea that some people have certain unearned advantages and benefits over others simply because there are aspects of their identity that society values over other identities. You can have privilege whether you are aware of it or not. You can also be simultaneously privileged and marginalized for different parts of your identity.


Refers to societal categorization of individuals based on physical appearance (such as skin color, hair type, facial form or eye shape), ancestral heritage, or cultural affiliation.

SOURCE: Sierra Club ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM: Education Glossary Terms, Anti-Defamation League, 2018


A label that you’re assigned at birth based on medical factors, including your hormones, genetics, and physical anatomy. Most people are assigned male or female at birth, but when someone’s anatomy doesn’t fit traditional definitions of female or male, they may be described as intersex.

Sexual orientation

Refers to how an individual defines their emotional, physical and/or romantic attractions. Categories of sexual orientation include, but are not limited to, gay and lesbian (attracted to some members of the same gender), bisexual (attracted to some members of more than one gender) and heterosexual (attracted to some members of another gender).


An oversimplified generalization about a group of people without regard for individual differences. Stereotypes often cause us to make assumptions (both negative and positive) about people based upon superficial characteristics. An example of a stereotype is any time you group individuals together based on an identity label and make a judgment about them without knowing them.

SOURCE: Perception Institute, ADAPTED WITH PERMISSION FROM: Education Glossary Terms, Anti-Defamation League, 2018


Being accepting and open-minded to different opinions, beliefs, practices, and cultures from our own, even if we do not necessarily agree with the differences.

SOURCE: Sierra Club

Transgender (often abbreviated as “trans”)

An umbrella term used to describe people whose true gender identity does not “match” the sex or gender they were assigned at birth. People who are transgender express themselves in many ways and do not necessarily need to alter their appearance in any way. When talking to or about someone who identifies as transgender, it is important to be respectful of how they identify, and use their self-ascribed identity, name, and pronouns.