Why did you develop the Glossary?

Establishing shared language is foundational to creating common understanding; it expands our awareness of the world beyond our individual identities and experiences. It is important to define terms that are not well understood and have the potential for causing harm.

Shared language holds us accountable to the values of justice, equity, and belonging. It facilitates collective action toward our vision of creating and sustaining a culture where all students, trainees, faculty, and staff thrive, and their success and wellbeing are not predicted by their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, and other dimensions of identity.

Language shapes our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Use of this Glossary will guide dialogue, challenge assumptions, inform goals and strategies, and shift the narrative to address root drivers of inequities and prioritize structurally marginalized populations. Our words, along with policies and structures, can foster an environment where justice, equity, and belonging are reflected in our everyday practice.

How did you develop the Glossary?

The Office of Equity, Vitality, and Inclusion, in partnership with BMC, BUMG, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, SPH, GSDM, and GMS collaboratively developed this Glossary to align our goals and strengthen our shared understanding. This document is informed by experts across many fields and is consistent with our peer institutes.

The definitions included are derived and adapted from those organizations and institutions that share our values of justice, equity, and belonging. Additionally, we incorporated input from our community of students, faculty, and staff. We understand that structurally marginalized populations experience the disproportionate burden of harm; this Glossary thus prioritizes the experiences of populations who have been pushed to the margins by unfair systems and structures. This Glossary recognizes the power of self-defining and relies on the language used by structurally marginalized groups (with the understanding that no group is monolithic and there is immense diversity within and across identities).

Additional peer institute glossaries we referred to:

As you review the Glossary, you will notice the standard use of capitalizing Black, Brown and White when referring to these racialized groups. There is no consensus or standardization for capitalizing Black, Brown, and/or White racialized groups1 (unlike Latinx, Hispanic, and Asian American). In developing this Glossary, our team intentionally prioritizes the voices of those at the margins to shift the narrative on topics like race and racism. We choose to capitalize Black, Brown and White in alignment with leaders of color who recognize Black is a cultural identity, a social category, as is Brown. We recognize that White is also a shared American cultural identity, though often unnamed and unrecognized by the majority group because it is experienced as the default by society and engrained in the fabric of the United States.2

1In 2020, the Associated Press and The New York Times announced separately they would standardize capitalizing Black but would not for White, to prevent giving whiteness more power.

2For more understanding on the debate on capitalizing or not, please refer to this article from the Atlantic.

What is the intended use of the Glossary?

This Glossary, along with policies and practices, is a foundational tool for culture change. It will be used differently by different people to provide a framework for facilitating discussion and supporting all of our work. Your feedback is a critical part of determining use of this tool.

Will the Glossary be updated?

Yes. This Glossary is a living document, reflecting the evolving nature of language. It is not comprehensive or all-inclusive but can advance institutional learning and growth. We are committed to ongoing, periodic revision to incorporate new concepts and evolving language.

Who should I contact if I have questions/feedback about the Glossary?

Who should I contact if I have questions/feedback about the Glossary? Please email wordsmatter@bu.edu with any questions or feedback. We encourage your ideas and thoughts.


Thank you to the following cross-institutional partners for advising on the development of the Glossary for Culture Transformation:

  • BMC Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery
  • BMC Grayken Center for Addiction
  • BMC Human Resources
  • BMC Office of Minority Physician Recruitment, Graduate Medical Education
  • Office of Equity, Vitality, and Inclusion
  • BUMG Diversity + Inclusion Advisory Council
  • BUMG Wellness + Professional Vitality Advisory Council
  • BUMG Women’s Leadership Advisory Council
  • BU Medical Campus, Office of Faculty Development and Diversity
  • BU Center for Antiracist Research
  • BU Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  • BU Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Diversity and Inclusion Office
  • BU Graduate Medical Sciences, Diversity and Inclusion Office
  • BU School of Public Health, Diversity and Inclusion Office
  • And the many community members - students, faculty, staff, and leadership - who provided critical input along the way.