School Culture Initiatives » Definitions and Terms

Definitions and Terms

Curious about what some of the words and concepts mean when Diversity, Equity and Inclusion comes up in conversation? Read on for definitions ...

Anti-racism: the practice of identifying and eliminating racism and promoting racial equity through policy changes or other action.

Cultural competency: The application of a defined set of values, principles, skills, attitudes, policies, and behaviors that enable individuals and groups to work effectively across cultures. Cultural competence is a developmental process (and continuum) that evolves over time for both individuals and organizations. It is defined as having the capacity to (1) value diversity (2) conduct assessment of self (3) manage the dynamics of difference (4) acquire and apply cultural knowledge and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities in which one lives and works.

Diversity: The concept of diversity embraces the wide range of human characteristics used to mark or identify individual and group identities. These characteristics include, but are not limited to, ethnicity, race, national origin, age, personality, sexual orientation, gender, class, religion, ability, and linguistic preferences. Diversity is a term used as shorthand for visible and quantifiable statuses, but diversity of thought and ways of knowing, being, and doing are also understood as natural, valued, and desired states, the presence of which benefit organizations, workplaces, and society.

Equity: A condition that balances two dimensions: fairness and inclusion. As a function of fairness, equity implies ensuring that people have what they need to participate in school life and reach their full potential. Equitable treatment involves eliminating barriers that prevent the full participation of all individuals. As a function of inclusion, equity ensures that essential educational programs, services, activities, and technologies are accessible to all. Equity is not equality; it is the expression of justice, ethics, multipartiality, and the absence of discrimination.

Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group identity, values, culture, language, history, ancestry and geography.

Implicit bias: The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.

Gender: Socially constructed categories of masculinity and manhood, femininity and womanhood.

Gender expression: The outward manifestation of internal gender identity, through clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms, and other characteristics.

Gender identity: A person’s internal sense of themselves as a specific gender.

Inclusivity/Inclusiveness: Encompassing all; taking every individual’s experience and identity into account and creating conditions where all feel accepted, safe, empowered, supported, and affirmed. An inclusive school or organization expands its sense of community to include all, cultivating belonging and giving all an equal voice. Inclusivity also promotes and enacts the sharing of power and recognition of interdependence, where authorizing individuals and community members share responsibility for expressing core values and maintaining respect for differences in the spirit of care and cooperation.

Microaggressions: Microaggressions are subtle words, cues, and/or behaviors that insult, invalidate, or exclude traditionally marginalized group members. The long-term effect of microaggressions can be a significant negative effect on one’s health.

Multiculturalism: The presence of many distinctive cultures and the manifestation of cultural components and derivatives (e.g. language, values, religion, race, communication styles, etc.) in a given setting. Multiculturalism promotes the understanding of, and respect for cultural differences, and celebrates them as a source of community strength. Multiculturalism is also defined as a set of programs, policies, and practices that enable and maximize the benefits of diversity in a school community or organization.

Privilege: Systemic favoring, enriching, valuing, validating, and including of certain social identities over others. Individuals cannot “opt out” of systems of privilege; rather these systems are inherent to the society in which we live.

Race: A social construct that divides people into groups based on factors such as physical appearance, ancestry, culture, history, etc.; a social, historical and political classification system.

Racism: A system of oppression involving systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups by those who have relatively more social power. This subordination occurs at the individual, cultural and institutional levels.

Sexual orientation: A concept referring to sexual desire and preference for emotional and sexual relationships with others based on their sex/gender; often implies that sexual object choice is an essential, in-born characteristic.

Social class (as in upper class, middle class, lower class, working class): Refers to people’s socio-economic status, based on factors such as wealth, occupation, education, income, etc.

White privilege: Institutional set of benefits, including greater access to resources and power, bestowed upon people classified as white.

Sources for these definitions include the National Association of Independent Schools, The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, Lambda Legal, and The Privilege Institute. Thanks to Lakeside School in Seattle for compiling these definitions.