Key Terms & Definitions

This glossary provides working definitions, that are not absolute but in the ballpark so to speak, of relevant terms that may be helpful in conversations across differences.


The systematic discrimination (individual, institutional, cultural levels) against persons with mental and/or physical disabilities and/or social structures that favor able-bodied individuals (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).
Active Listening
Listening attentively to what another person says and expressing interest through your facial expression, body posture, and other non-verbal behaviors. Paraphrasing or reflecting back, in your own words, what you heard the other person say can be very helpful in establishing how well you heard or understood the message (Bidol, 1986; Bolton, 1979).
Individuals who take a stand against prejudice and discrimination directed at people from targeted or marginalized groups or who choose to support the struggle of other social groups because they have common goals and are committed to social justice. Examples of “allies” include white people who work to end all forms of racism, men and women who support the struggle for inclusion of transgender individuals, African-American people who work to end discrimination against Arab Americans, and heterosexual men who work to end homophobia (Wijeyesinghe, Griffin, & Love, 1997; Kaye/Kantrowitz, 1993).
Hatred of or prejudice against Jews and Judaism. The Anti-Defamation League divides anti-Semitic incidents into two categories: “harassment, including threats and assaults directed at individuals and institutions; and vandalism, such as property damage, cemetery desecration or anti-Semitic graffiti” (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).
The process whereby an individual of a minority group gradually adopts characteristics of the majority culture. This adoption results in the loss of characteristics of one’s native culture, such as language, culinary tastes, interpersonal communication, gender roles, and style of dress (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).


Bias Incident
Bias incidents are acts of conduct, speech, or expression that target individuals and groups based on race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, gender identity/expression, age, ability, or sexual orientation. Bias-related incidents, while abhorrent and intolerable, do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime. However, bias-related incidents do require the active participation of a community committed to fundamental human dignity and equality to successfully address.
Biological Sex
This can be considered our “packaging” and is determined by our chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); our hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and our internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for females, penis and testicles for males). About 1.7% of the population can be defined as intersexual—born with biological aspects of both sexes to varying degrees. So, in actuality, there are more than two sexes (adkins, 2013).
A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to both men and women. Some people avoid this term because of its implications that there are only two sexes/genders to be sexually attracted to and this reinforces the binary gender system (adkins, 2013).


Is a relative status that is based on income, wealth, power, and/or position. The U.S. has no hard and fast divisions between class groups, thus making class hard to definitively define. Income and wealth are both on spectrums and dependent on the economy at the time causing some people within the hierarchy to move up dramatically, in increments, move down, or remain stagnant during our lifetimes. Some people grow up in one class and live as adults in another (; Smith, 2013).
Biased attitudes and beliefs that result in, and help to justify, unfair treatment of individuals or groups because of their socioeconomic grouping. “Classism” can also be expressed as public policies, institutional and cultural practices that stigmatize and prevent people from breaking out of poverty rather than ensuring equal economic, social, and educational opportunity (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).
Collusion or Complicity
Actively or passively supporting harassment, discrimination, and other forms of differential or unequal treatment by failing confront one’s own biases or discriminatory behaviors or by actively supporting or participating in organized efforts to keep disadvantaged individuals or social groups from gaining equality. Examples of collusion include people who object to renovations that make buildings more accessible to people with disabilities, who remain silent when they hear a racially prejudiced remark, or who “look the other way” when hate crimes are committed (adapted from Griffin, 1997; and Wijeyesinghe, Griffin, & Love, 1997).
Term used to describe personal, group, and institutional policies or practices that do not consider race or ethnicity as a determining factor. Generally, these people or institutions do not necessary carry overt prejudice towards other racial groups and see their colorblindness as an example of justice and moving towards an equitable world. They often fail to realize how being colorblind during a time where race is actually a conscious and unconscious factor in determining life opportunities helps to perpetuate the system of racism (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003; Smith, 2013).
Comfort Zone
We are inside our comfort zones when discussing topics or engaging in activities that are familiar and do not cause us to become upset (Griffin, 1997).
The behaviors, traditions, beliefs, attitudes, norms, social roles, and values that are shared by a particular group of people. Cultures are not static but continue to evolve and change (Okun, Fried & Okun, 1999).


Actions and/or practices that are intended to negatively impact individual people or disadvantage a targeted social group (Pincus, 2000).

A. Individual discrimination: Refers to “… the behavior of individual members of one racial/ethnic/ gender group that is intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on the members of another race/ethnic/gender group” (Pincus, 2000). For example, a Latino/a person committing violence against a Black person simply because they don’t like Black people (Smith, 2013).

B. Institutional discrimination: The “policies of businesses and institutions, and the behavior of individuals who control them, that are intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on minority race/ethnic/gender groups” (Pincus, 2000, p 186). Examples of institutional discrimination include companies that will not hire or promote people of color and schools that provide better funding to men’s athletics than women’s athletics (Pincus, 2000).

C. Cultural discrimination: Refers to the way that cultural values, expressions and history are defined by a dominant group as superior to all other groups’ values, expressions and histories. It is not necessary for anyone to say: “my group’s culture is superior;” it simply has to be treated as universal –– representing the best in all of humanity. It is considered ‘normal,’ which means that all others are either ‘strange,’ or ‘invisible’ or both. An example of cultural discrimination is to deny a Muslim temple to be built because it is viewed as un-American, and un-Christian. (Young, 2004; Smith, 2013).

Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender — the groups that most often come to mind when the term “diversity” is used — but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values (University of California, Berkeley, 2013).


“(T) he process through which people gain the power and resources necessary to shape their worlds and reach full human potential” (Schriver, 2004, p. 27). Empowered individuals, organizations, communities, and social groups, believe in their capacity to act and take action (Irwin, 1996).
The practice of categorizing an entire group based on assumptions about what constitutes the “essence” of that group (e.g., assuming that women are better nurturers due to something that is innate in their being). Essentialism prevents individuals from remaining open to individual differences within groups (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).
Ethnicity refers to a shared sense of “people-hood” that is transmitted over generations within a particular group. It is also a way of categorizing people based on their common sense of people hood, their shared traditions, language, norms and values, their political and economic interests, their history, and their ancestral geographic base. Ethnic group categories may change over time and in different contexts. Examples of ethnic groups are Cape Verdeans, African Americans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican-Americans, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Cherokee, Navajo, Polish, and Irish (Wijeyesinghe, Griffin & Love, 1997; Okun, Fried & Okun, 1999).


Theory and practice that advocates for educational and occupational equity between men and women and undermines traditional cultural practices that support the subjugation of women by men and the devaluation of women’s contributions to society. Basically, it’s about ending oppression against women (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003; Smith, 2013).


A homosexual person usually used to describe males attracted to males but may be used to describe females as well (adkins, 2013).
Gender Expression
Refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and emphasizing, de-emphasizing, or changing their bodies’ characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex. Gender expression is not necessarily an indication of sexual orientation (, 2013).
Gender Identity
Our innermost concept of self as “male” or “female”—what we perceive and call ourselves. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological sex. We sometimes call these people transsexuals, some of whom hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity (, 2013).
Gender Role
This is the set of roles and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender. Though transgender has increasingly become an umbrella term referring to people who cross gender/sex barriers, many people find any umbrella term problematic because it reduces different identities into one oversimplified category (, 2013).
Glass Ceiling
Term used to describe the “unseen” barrier that prevents women and people of color from being hired or promoted beyond a certain level of responsibility, prestige, or seniority in the workplace (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).


Hate Crime
According to Massachusetts Law, a Hate Crime is any criminal act coupled with overt actions motivated by bigotry and bias including, but not limited to, a threatened, attempted, or completed overt act motivated at least in part by racial, religious, ethnic, disability, gender or sexual orientation prejudice, or which otherwise deprives another person of his/her constitutional rights by threats, intimidation, or coercion, or which seek to interfere with or disrupt a person’s exercise of constitutional rights through harassment or intimidation. Hate Crimes have received high levels of attention in recent years, particularly since the 1990 passage of a Federal Act put in place to monitor the reporting of Hate/Bias motivated crimes. This act identifies the hate or bias component of a crime as a specific offense, separate from but related to the original offense. Hate/Bias crimes carry different penalties and mandatory sentences for perpetrators who are found guilty. The reporting of Hate Crimes as well as the subsequent investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators may act as a deterrent and also helps to keep the public informed about the scope of the problem (Amherst, 2013).
Systematic bias against non-heterosexuals at the individual, institutional, cultural level that is based on a belief in the superiority of heterosexuality. Heterosexism does not imply the same fear and hatred as homophobia. An example of individual heterosexism could be a man would say to another man “She’d drive any man wild” which assumes that heterosexuality is the norm. An example of institutional heterosexism is the military having policies and practices in place that discourage gays or lesbians from entering the military. An example of cultural heterosexism is where the everyday discourse assumes parents are heterosexual, a dad and mother. (, 2013; Smith, 2013).
Refers to a fear or hatred of homosexuality by heterosexual peoples, but it can also occur in a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning person and that is known as internalized homophobia. (, 2013; Smith, 2013).


Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people (University of California, Berkeley, 2011).
Intergroup conflict
Identity-based tensions and hostilities that surface between social groups as a result of stereotypical beliefs or prejudicial attitudes, misunderstanding, self-interest, competition for resources, separation and segregation, and social inequality in society and on college campuses. The sources of conflict can result from differences in information, values, ways of achieving a goal, disagreement over purpose, and/or unequal access to resources in a community or the larger society. (Adapted from Stephan & Stephan, 1996, Whetherell, 1996, and Zúñiga & Chesler, 1993).
Internalized dominance
When members of a privileged social group accept beliefs and attitudes that are prejudicial toward others and justify their group’s socially superior or dominant status as normal or deserved. Internalized dominance may express itself through feelings of superiority over or scorn for targeted groups and avoidance of members of targeted groups. For example, a heterosexual who believes only heterosexuals are good parents, or a man who only considers men qualified for the job and resists working with women peers (Griffin, 1997; Bell, 1997).
Internalized oppression
When members of a target social group take in and believe the negative images, stereotypes, and ideology of the dominant group and come to accept their socially subordinate status as deserved, natural, and inevitable. Internalized subordination may express itself through feelings of self-doubt, fear, and powerlessness, and through wanting to be like the dominant group. For example, a woman who believes she is less qualified for a job than a man, or the belief by a person of color that white skin is more beautiful than other skin tones (Griffin, 1997; Lipsky, 1998; Fletcher, 1999; Pheterson, 1990).


Linguistic Discrimination or Linguicism
Is the unfair treatment of an individual or group of people based solely on their native language or use of the dominant group’s language, which includes having the “wrong accent”, “wrong syntax” or limited vocabulary (Wikipedia, 2012; Smith, 2013).
Low-Income or Poor
A subset of working class people who chronically can’t get income sufficient to cover all their basic needs. Signs that someone might belong to this class can include: 1) substandard housing or homelessness; 2) long-time use of public benefits, such as welfare, or charity; 3) chronic unmet needs for health care, food, or other necessities; 4) frequent involuntary moves, chaos and disruption of life. Low-income people are varied in race, culture, values and political beliefs — although they are disproportionately people of color, women and children (, 2012).


The placement of minority groups and cultures outside mainstream society. All that varies from the norm of the mainstream is devalued and at times perceived as deviant and regressive (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).
Is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women (Wikipedia, 2012).
Theory and practice that promotes the peaceful coexistence of multiple races, ethnicities, and cultures in a given society, celebrating and sustaining language diversity, religious diversity, and social equity (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).


Means one’s country of origin, which doesn’t necessarily mean they practice the cultural of their country. Nationality can be termed as the relationship between a person and their state of origin, whereas ethnicity can be defined as a group of people who are united by common traditional, cultural, linguistic, ritualistic, behavioral and religious traits. For example, some folks identify ethnically as Irish, but may nationally identified as American, if they live in the United States. Another example is a person may be Asian racially, Chinese nationally, and Han ethnically (, 2013; Smith, 2013).


A system of relationships among social groups in which “one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit” (Hardiman & Jackson, 1997), resulting in “vast and deep injustices” (Young, 2000, p. 36). Oppression operates through individuals’ conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviors, media and cultural stereotypes, Institutional practices, hierarchical power structures and competitions for resources (Young, 2003).
Owning Class
Investors and their family members with enough income from assets that they don’t have to work to pay basic bills. A subset has positions of power or vast wealth that put them in the ruling class. Signs that someone might belong to the owning class can include: 1) elite private schools and colleges; 2) large inheritances; 3) luxuries and international travel; 4) owning multiple homes. Owning class people are disproportionately white and male (, 2012; Smith, 2013).


Is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers (men in general) hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage (Wikipedia, 2012).
Personal Identity
“Our identities as individuals, including our names, personal experiences, traits, skills, and personal characteristics, self-view and self esteem” (Arizona State University Intergroup Relations Center, 2003).
Power can reside within an individual (often known as empowerment), between individuals (often known as power with), and between groups (often known as power over) in society (Pinderhughes, 1989). It can be defined as the ability of an individual or group to influence a situation or relationship to achieve a particular goal; it can also be construed as the ability of individuals or groups to access to resources (symbolic, material, social) in a community or the larger society (Irwin, 1996). Having power allows for people to access institutional and cultural levels of discrimination. (Smith, 2013).
“[A]ttitudes and beliefs involving a tendency to prejudge people, usually negatively and usually on the basis of a single personal characteristic (such as race, sex, religion, hair length, etc.) (Farley, 1996, p.13). Or, “[a] set of negative personal beliefs about a social group that leads individuals to prejudge people from that group or the group in general, regardless of individual differences among members of that group” (Goodman & Schapiro, 1997, p.118). Prejudice often leads to discrimination.
A “system of advantage” that gives people from more powerful social groups access to resources and opportunities that are denied to others (and usually gained at their expense) simply because of the groups they belong to. It is often difficult for people from privileged groups to recognize their privilege and they may often believe that they have earned it by their own merit or by doing something that less privileged people have failed to do. It is also important to know that privilege is something that is often given out by the “system of oppression” and those who consciously or subconsciously enact it. However, privilege can be earned or consciously acquired especially in the case of socio-economic class. (Goodman, 2001; Johnson, 2001; Wildman & Davis, 1996, 2000, Smith, 2013).
Professional Middle Class
College-educated, salaried professionals and managers and their family members. Signs that someone might belong to the professional middle class can include: 1) 4-year college, especially at private and/or residential schools, sometimes professional school; 2) secure homeownership, often with several moves up to bigger houses in a lifetime; 3) more control over the hours and methods of work than working-class people, and/or control over others’ work; and 4) more economic security than working class people (although that difference is eroding), but no way to pay bills without working. Middle-class people are varied in race, culture, values and political beliefs however they are disproportionately white (, 2012).


Historically a negative term used against people perceived to be LGBT, “queer” has more recently been reclaimed by some people as a positive term describing all those who do not conform to rigid notions of gender and sexuality. Queer is often used in a political context and in academic settings to challenge traditional ideas about identity (“queer theory”). Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing gay, lesbian, questioning, bisexual, non-labeling, transgender people, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual (, 2013).


Race is a social construct created to sort people into categories so that they can be treated differently. A person’s “race” is usually determined according to observable physical characteristics (particularly skin color) and cultural markers (ancestral heritage, language, ethnic classification) within a particular socio-historical and political context. Race is a multifaceted concept that must be considered contextually. For example, in the United States a person with any black African ancestry is usually labeled Black or African American, even though many of their ancestors may have been European or Native American (the “one drop rule”). The idea that there are different “races” was originally based on the belief that there are biologically distinct human groups, and that some are superior to others in terms of intelligence, moral judgment, etc., but anthropologists and biologists believe that, from a scientific point of view, there is really only one human “race” (Zúñiga & Castañeda, 2000; Okun, Fried & Okun, 1999; Smedly, 1999).
“The network or system of individual attitudes/behaviors, institutional structures/policies, and cultural practices that create advantages and benefits for the dominant raced group. In the U.S. specifically, Whites have been that group. An example of individual racism is saying to a friend of a similar background that all Asian people look a like. An example of institution racism is police departments across the country racially profiling Black men. An example of a cultural level of racism accepting, consciously or subconsciously, that all ‘illegal’ immigrants are Mexican and as a result ignoring other racial groups including white immigrants who are also “illegal” (Wijeyesinghe, Griffin, & Love, 1997; Smith, 2013).
Religious Oppression (or Persecution)
Is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals as a response to their religious beliefs or affiliations or lack thereof. Moreover, because a person’s religion often determines to a significant extent his or her morality and personal identity, religious differences can be significant cultural factors. It may be triggered by religious bigotry (i.e. the denigration of practitioners’ religions other than those of the oppressors) or by the State when it views a particular religious group as a threat to its interests or security. At an individual and societal level, this dehumanization of a particular religious group may readily turn into violence or other forms of persecution (Wikipedia, 2012; Smith, 2013).
Reverse Discrimination
A term used by opponents to affirmative action who believe that these policies are causing members of traditionally dominant groups to be discriminated against (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003).


Safer Space
A space in which an individual or group may remain free of blame, ridicule and persecution, and are in no danger of coming to mental or physical harm (The National Multicultural Institute, 2003; adkins, 2013).
The extent to which an aspect of someone’s personal and social identity is prominent or noticeable to the self-depending on the context they find themselves in. Targeted social group identities tend to have high saliency in group relations, as do the identities of those who are “the only one” in a particular social situation. For example, the “maleness” of a man is more evident in an all-women classroom or an all-women sports team; the “blackness” of a Black person is more evident in a predominately white space (, 2013; Smith, 2013).
A system of “enforced separation of groups” that is maintained by the group in power as a way to protect their privileged status (Farley, 1995, p. 91).
This term takes the word “segregation,” which is inextricably linked to a century of legalized oppression and applies it to individuals who find value in hanging out together. It implies that minorities, specifically people of color and probably more so Black people, have returned to such a period of injustice, only this time that they have brought it upon themselves. The term fails to acknowledge the value of identity-based communities, suppresses open dialogue, and creates social tension within the broader university community (Mitchell, A., Washington University Political Review, April 2012).
Sexual Identity
This is how we perceive and what we call ourselves. Such labels include “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “bi,” “queer,” “questioning,” “heterosexual,” “straight,” and others. Sexual Identity evolves through a developmental process that varies depending on the individual. Our sexual behavior and how we define ourselves (identity) can be chosen. Though some people claim their sexual orientation is also a choice, for others this does not seem to be the case (, 2013).
Sexual Orientation
This is determined by our sexual and emotional attractions. Categories of sexual orientation include homosexuals—gay, lesbian—attracted to some members of the same sex; bisexuals, attracted to some members of more than one sex; and heterosexuals, attracted to some members of another sex. Orientation is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics and hormones, as well as unknown environmental factors. Though the origins of sexuality are not completely understood, it is generally believed to be established before the age of five (, 2013).
Socialization by itself is not necessarily a problem because as children we do need to be cared for and educated about the world and it’s meaning. However, when there is oppression-based on social identities and inflexible ways of being we experience a process by which we all learn to “fit” into our social world through systematic training in “how to be” each of our social identities. Learning ‘how to be’ often leads to people having advantages, disadvantages or bordering both depending on a specific identity or combination of identities. Socialization often, not always, follows predictable patterns and is pervasive, consistent, self-perpetuating, and often invisible (adapted from Harro, 2000 & Tatum, 1997, Smith, 2013). Individuality-based socialization can also teach some (usually privileged group members or people who resist the normative socialization) not to identify themselves as a member of a social group (Smith, 2013).
Social Group
A group of people who share a range of physical, cultural, linguistic and/or other characteristics, and to which individuals are assigned based on socially constructed categories, such as race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, religion, nationality, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, ability/disability status, and first language (Adams, Bell & Griffin, 1997; Harro, 2000).
Social Justice
A vision of a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure (Bell, 1997), and every person has the opportunity and power to fully participate in the social system (Ore, 2000). Furthermore, this society continually works to affirm and accept people from all social group identities (Young, 1990). Social justice is a process as well as a goal … in working toward a socially just society; we must also strive to do our work in a manner consistent with that vision (e.g. with fairness, inclusion, and collaboration) (Bell, 1997).
“[B]eliefs 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 resistant to change—even in the face of contradictory evidence” (Arizona State University Intergroup Relations Center, 2003).


Refers to those whose gender expression at least sometimes runs contrary to what others in the same culture would normally expect. Transgender is a broad term that includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens/kings, and people who do not identify as either of the two sexes as currently defined. When referring to transgender people, use the pronoun they have designated as appropriate, or the one that is consistent with their presentation of themselves (, 2013).
Individuals who do not identify with their birth-assigned sex and sometimes alter their bodies surgically and/or hormonally. Medically transitioning (formerly called “sex change”) is a complicated, multi-step process that may take years and may include, but is not limited to, gender confirmation surgery (, 2013).
A Native American person who embodies both masculine and feminine genders; Native Americans who are queer or transgender may self-identify as two-spirit. Historically, different tribes have specific titles for different kinds of two-spirit people (, 2013).


Working Class
People who personally or come from families that have some or all of following class indicators: 1) little or no college education; in particular no BA from a 4-year college; 2) low or negative net worth (assets minus debts); 3) rental housing, or one non-luxury home long saved for and lived in for decades; and 4) occupations involving physical work and/or little control in the workplace. Working-class people are varied in race, culture, values and political belief. They are majority white, but compared with the composition of the whole population they are disproportionately people of color and women. Working-class people are more likely to have strong ethnic and religious identities than middle-class people (, 2012).