Term Definition Source


An acronym which stands for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. This term includes all people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry, who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions. 

AAPIs are the fastest growing demographic group in the country. By 2040, one in 10 Americans will be AAPI representing more than 48 different ethnic groups and languages. 

Structural racism impacts communities of color in different ways. AAPIs are simultaneously perceived as a monolithic model minority and as the perpetual foreigner. 

Adapted from Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy


Beliefs or practices that rest on the assumption that being able-bodied is “normal” while other states of being need to be “fixed” or altered. This can result in devaluing or discriminating against people with physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities. Institutionalized ableism may include or take the form of un/intentional organizational barriers that result in disparate treatment of people with disabilities (PwDs).

Harvard Human Resources Glossary of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Terms


The "ability to access" the functionality of a system or entity, and gain the related benefits. The degree to which a product, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. Accessible design ensures both direct (unassisted) access and indirect access through assistive technology (e.g., computer screen readers). Universal design ensures that an environment can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people.

Harvard Human Resources Glossary of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Terms


A change in the environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to have equal opportunity, access and participation.

Harvard Human Resources Glossary of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Terms


A primary, chronic, neurobiological disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestation. Addiction is characterized by behaviors that include:

  • Impaired control over drug use
  • Compulsive use
  • Continued use despite harm
  • Cravings

When referring to someone with an addiction, refrain from using “addict” and instead use “person with substance use disorder”. Please refer to the Grayken Center for Addiction at BMC for more information and resources on how to reduce stigma through the words we use.

The Recovery Research Institute based out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School


Cultural, ethnic, and racial identity representing individuals whose heritage is rooted in the African diaspora. Historically, the term has been used to categorize descendants of enslaved Black people through the Transatlantic Slave trade between the 17th and 19th century, as most African Americans are descendants of enslaved persons. However, this is no longer a comprehensive grouping of individuals, for instance some recent Black immigrants or their children may also come to identify as African-American or may identify differently.

African-American is an example of self-defining identities. 

Note: African-American is not always synonymous with Black, and some who identify as African-American do not identify as Black and vice-versa.

Terms not to use: Colored, Afro-American, Blacks, Negro

Adapted from multiple sources including the following: 

Negro, Black, Black African, African Caribbean, African American or what? Labelling African origin populations in the health arena in the 21st century | Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (bmj.com)


A group identity based on the chronological number of years since a person’s birth. Discrimination often occurs against people who are “too young” or “too old.” When in doubt do not refer to a person’s age.

Elder and/or elderly are terms that may also be used but are culturally dependent. Older person is a neutral term.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


Actively making the commitment and effort to recognize one’s privilege (based on race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) and working in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways. Allies commit to reducing their own complicity or collusion in oppression of those groups and invest in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.

Adapted from Open Source Leadership Strategies “The Dynamic System of Power, Privilege, and Oppressions” and Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


A theoretical framework that illuminates society’s inability to recognize Black humanity. The belief that there’s something wrong with Black people. It is two-part formation that both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues.

Adapted from The Council for Democratizing Education and Dr. kihana miraya ross, professor of African American studies.


The active and conscious effort to work against the multi-dimensional aspects of racism; undoing racism requires consistently identifying it, describing it and then dismantling it. Note: ‘anti-racist’ does not mean ‘non-racist.’ According to The National Museum of African American History and Culture, “No one is born racist or antiracist; these result from the choices we make. Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, White-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.”

Adapted from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Robert J. Patterson


A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

US State Department


Describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who asexual people are, just like other sexual orientations.

Asexual Visibility and Education Network

Assigned Sex at Birth

The sex (male, female, intersex) assigned to a child at birth, most often based on the child's external anatomy. Also referred to as birth sex, natal sex, biological sex, or sex.

Other examples: AFAB (assigned female at birth), AMAB (assigned male at birth).

Note: It is not valid to use “biology” or “science” to claim assigned sex at birth and/or gender are a fixed, concrete concept and/or binary. Science favors the fact that sex and gender are more complicated and involve much more than one’s sexual organs.

Adapted from The Fenway Institute and informed by Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia - Scientific American Blog Network


Describes someone with autism, a developmental disability that affects how individuals experience the world. 

Note: Many self-advocates and their allies tend to use identity-first language, e.g. autistic person, understanding that autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity. Many in the autism community feel that person first language (e.g. individual with autism) treats autism like a disease when it is not.

Adapted from Autistic Advocacy


How connected one feels to one’s community/ communities. Operationalized when individuals are considered part of the constitutional foundation of an organization or institution. Belonging is achieved when individuals have the ability to critique and hold an institution responsible for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Adapted from NYU and BUMC Faculty Development + Diversity


A preference in favor of, or against a person, group of people, or thing. These initial human reactions, which are often unconscious, are rooted in untrue information and/or cultural lore or structural defaults. These cognitive shortcuts can result in prejudgments that lead to rash decisions or discriminatory practices. 

Biases are also part of being human. Once we know and accept we have biases, with awareness and a conscious effort, we have the power to change how we think and act. 

See Implicit Bias or Stereotype Threat for additional examples.

Adapted from the National Museum of African American History and Psychology Today


An acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. This is a more recent term, with increasing usage in mainstream publications, developed to draw attention to the continued racialized terror of Black and Indigenous people within the term “POC”. BIPOC is used to promote visibility among Indigenous and Black people and to call attention to colonialism and anti-Blackness, which equates to the violent and murderous removal of Indigenous peoples from their homes and land and the chattel slavery and inhumane treatment of Black Americans which is built into the fabric of the United States of America.

Adapted from multiple sources


Describes someone who can be emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.

Human Rights Campaign, defined by Robyn Ochs.

Black Lives Matter (BLM)

Black Lives Matter is both the sprawling social movement that has dominated headlines and the civil rights organization with more than 30 chapters across the United States. There is a clear differentiation between the two. 

#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — and created a Black-centered political will and movement building project in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. It has since become an international rallying cry against anti-Blackness and white supremacy. 

Black Lives Matter


Use only for a person with total loss of sight. Many people who are legally blind have partial sight. Use visually impaired, partially sighted, or person with low vision.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


A predictable response of individuals who are exposed to chronic unresolved occupational stress, resulting in exhaustion, cynicism and a reduced sense of effectiveness.

Adapted from Physician Wellness Academic Consortium


A term to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (i.e., a person who is not transgender).

Adapted from Human Rights Campaign and The Fenway Institute


Involves adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities. The act of code-switching often centers around members of target groups code-switching to minimize the impact of bias from the dominant group.

This is most often used in adjusting language and behavior to assimilate with the majority culture or participate in an ethnic subgroup or subculture.

Harvard Business Review: The Costs of Codeswitching
The National Leadership Honor Society: DEI Glossary


Form of invasion, dispossession and subjugation of a people. The invasion need not be military; it can begin—or continue—as geographical intrusion in the form of agricultural, urban, or industrial encroachments. The result of such incursion is the dispossession of vast amounts of lands from the original inhabitants. This is often legalized after the fact. The long-term result of such massive dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized. 

Colonialism is similar but not the same as imperialism, which is a policy of extending a country's power and influence through diplomacy or military force. Colonialism is a type of imperialism.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center and Colonization and Racism Film by Emma LaRocque

Colorblind Ideology

A belief that assumes institutional racism and discrimination have been largely eradicated, and that “equal opportunity, one’s qualifications, not one’s color or ethnicity, should be the mechanism by which upward mobility is achieved.”2 This belief can lead to a dismissal of social and cultural factors still affecting many people of color, as well as a rejection of policies that attempt to address existing inequalities (e.g., affirmative action).

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning


Also called shadism, skin tone bias, pigmentocracy and color complex, which refers to the prejudiced attitude and/or discriminatory acts against people with darker color/shade/tone skin, typically among people of the same racial or ethnic group. This is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color. White supremacy is upheld by colorism.

Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center

Cultural Appropriation

The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. 

Though there is criticism for the term, “as we look more closely at the entrenched inequality in the history of cultural exchange, it becomes clear that the term “cultural appropriation” is simply giving a name to the exploitation that has always existed and continues to this day. Cultural appropriation allows people to be rewarded for the heritage and labor of oppressed and marginalized communities, disregards the origins and significance of what is being taken, and embraces the products of a culture while reinforcing or ignoring the prejudice experienced by the people who originated it.” 

Oxford Dictionary, Cultural Appropriation Viewing Guide by PBS

Cultural Humility

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].” Cultural humility is different from other culturally-based training ideals because it focuses on self-humility rather than achieving a state of knowledge or awareness. Cultural humility was formed in the physical healthcare field and adapted for therapists and social workers to increase the quality of their interactions with clients and community members.

Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center

Culture of Wellness

Shared values, behaviors, and leadership qualities that prioritize personal and professional growth, community, and compassion for self and others.

Physician Wellness Academic Consortium


Used to describe a person with total or profound hearing loss. Many only have mild or partial loss of hearing. Use person with hearing loss, partially deaf. 

Note: Deaf (capitalized) is a social, cultural, and personal identity that is deeply rooted in the Deaf community, while deaf (not capitalized) refers those who have little or no functional hearing. Hard of hearing or HOH is a person whose hearing loss ranges from mild to profound and whose usual means of communication is speech. It is both a medical and a sociological term. Hard of hearing (HOH) and deaf are terms that are used that are not interchangeable. As always, defer to how an individual self-identifies.

Do not use deaf-dumb, deaf-mute. Also do not use hearing impaired, which is a medical diagnosis and using the term implies knowledge of the cause of a person's deafness.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit and Connect Hear


  1. May be defined as the active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence and power that originate from a colonized nation’s own indigenous culture. This process occurs politically and also applies to personal and societal psychic, cultural, political, agricultural, and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression.
  2. Per Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang: “Decolonization doesn’t have a synonym”; it is not a substitute for ‘human rights’ or ‘social justice’, though undoubtedly, they are connected in various ways. Decolonization demands an Indigenous framework and a centering of Indigenous land, Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous ways of thinking.

Racial Equity Tools FUNDAMENTALS via the following sources: 

  1. Glossary - The Movement for Black Lives (archive.org)

Decolonization is not a Metaphor https://clas.osu.edu/sites/clas.osu.edu/files/Tuck%20and%20Yang%202012%20Decolonization%20is%20not%20a%20metaphor.pdf

Developmental Disability

Federal, local, and legal definitions vary, but the term can include conditions such as autism and epilepsy. Use specific terms when possible.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


General term for functional limitation that affect one or more of the major life activities, including walking, lifting, learning and breathing. Disabilities can be hidden (e.g. related to mental health, learning) or visible. Various laws define disability differently.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


“Disability” and “disabled” generally describe functional limitations that affect one or more of the major life activities, including walking, lifting, learning and breathing. Person with a disability or disabled person is preferred. And always refer to how a group or individual self-identifies and/or requests to be identified.

Note: Disability and people who have disabilities are not monolithic. Avoid referring to “the disabled” in the same way that you would avoid referring to “the Asians,” “the Jews” or “the African-Americans.” Instead, consider using such terms as “the disability community” or “the disability activist.” Do not use victim of, suffers from, stricken with, or afflicted with.

Additionally, avoid using “differently abled” which is a term that came into vogue in the 1990s as an alternative to “disabled,” “handicapped” or “mentally retarded.” Currently, it is not considered appropriate (and for many, never was). Some consider it condescending, offensive or simply a way of avoiding talking about disability. Others prefer it to “disabled” because “dis” means “not,” which means that “disabled” means “not able.” But particularly when it comes to referring to individuals, “differently abled” is problematic. As some advocates observe, we are all differently abled. 

As an ally, please refrain from using able-bodied. This term is used to describe someone who does not identify as having a disability. Some members of the disability community oppose its use because it implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. The term “non-disabled” or the phrase “does not have a disability” or “is not living with a disability” are more neutral choices.

Adapted from National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Disability Language Style Guide


A prejudice-based action taken by a dominant group member against a non-dominant group member; also can be supported by systems and structures (i.e., systemic oppression). These actions are used to limit another group’s opportunities, confidence, access, and ability to perform in society.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


Each individual is unique, and groups of individuals reflect multiple dimensions of identity: race, sex and gender, socio-economic status, sexuality, age, ability, national origin, religious beliefs, cognitive styles, personality, appearance, and much more. Valuing diversity means embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of difference that exist in groups and eliminating interpersonal and institutional biases based on these differences.

Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center

Efficiency of Practice

Workplace systems, processes, and practices that promote safety, quality, effectiveness, positive patient and colleague interactions, and work-life balance.

Physician Wellness Academic Consortium

Enslaved Person

A newer term for slave which is beginning to gain traction in written works; aims to promote the humanity of those who were enslaved by 1) explicitly reminding us that it is not an inherent state of being 2) directing our attention to the action that someone and something enslaved people. The rationale is that “to reduce the people involved to a nonhuman noun … reproduce(s) the violence of slavery on a linguistic level; to dispense with it amount(s) to a form of emancipation.”

Adapted from many sources including Slate and the Chicago Tribune


The state in which differences in life outcomes are not predicted by one’s race, sex and gender, and other dimensions of identity, with specific emphasis on populations bearing the burden of inequities (e.g., people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals). Valuing equity means engaging those most impacted by structural inequity in the creation and implementation of institutional policies, practices, and messages that eliminate unfair differences in outcomes, so everyone has the means and opportunity to improve the quality of their lives. Equity is both a process and an outcome. 

Equity does not mean equality. Although both aim to achieve fairness, an equality approach treats everyone the same regardless of need, while an equity approach treats people differently and appropriately dependent on need.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


Classification of human based on shared cultural heritage, such as place of birth, language, customs, etc. Race is not a synonym.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


Also known as anti-fat, is the implicit and explicit bias of overweight individuals that is rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing. Being overweight and/or fat is highly stigmatized in Western Culture. Anti-fatness is intrinsically linked to anti-blackness, racism, classism, misogyny, and many other systems of oppression. 

Anti-fatness contributes to individuals not receiving adequate healthcare for a number of reasons, 1) the assumption is if someone is overweight they cannot be healthy, 2) clinical care teams typically lack experience in treating diverse body sizes, 3) weight related structural barriers, e.g., size of exam tables, gowns, blood pressure cuffs, and scale limits.

Informed by multiple sources, including: 


A sexual orientation describing people who are primarily emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex and/or gender as themselves. Commonly used to describe men who are primarily attracted to men, but can also describe women attracted to women.

The Fenway Institute


A social construction that assigns particular characteristics, norms, and roles to sex and genitalia. Refers to the different roles society expects of people. The behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits typically associated with one’s gender and often, incorrectly, assumed based on their sex assigned at birth. Usually refers to those aspects of life that are shaped by social forces or to the meaning that society gives to perceived biological differences. 

Do not use sex as a synonym for gender.

Note: Consider using “woman/women” rather than “female/females” as a noun. Female is an adjective, descriptive of animals. When female is used as a noun, it can reduce someone to their ability to reproduce and can be dehumanizing. It is also not inclusive of trans-women. The similar rule applies to male (adjective) vs. man (noun). E.g. male doctors (used correctly as an adjective) vs. doctors who are men (used correctly as a noun).

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit and BMC’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery

Gender Binary Structure

The idea that there are only two genders (girl/woman and boy/man), and that a person must strictly fit into one category or the other.

The Fenway Institute

Gender Equity

When gender and gender identity no longer determine one’s life outcomes. In terms of the workplace, that means recruitment, hiring, retention, advancement, salary, overall wellbeing, and more; when everyone has what they need to thrive professionally and are free of gender-based harassment, bias, and discrimination. As a process, we apply gender equity when those most impacted by structural gender inequities (e.g., women, transgender and gender-diverse individuals, and the intersection of marginalized identities), are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives.

Adapted from the Center for Social Inclusion

Gender Expression

The way a person acts, dresses, speaks, and behaves (i.e., feminine, masculine, androgynous). Gender expression does not necessarily align with assigned sex at birth or gender identity.

Adapted from The Fenway Institute

Gender Identity

A person's internal sense of being a man/male, woman/female, both, neither, or another gender.

Adapted from The Fenway Institute


Describes the community of people who fall outside of the gender binary structure. Other terms for gender-diverse include non-binary, gender expansive, gender fluid, genderqueer, etc.

The Fenway Institute


Describes a person whose gender identity falls outside the traditional gender binary (male/man versus female/woman). Other terms for people whose gender identity falls outside the traditional gender binary include non-binary, gender expansive, gender diverse, gender fluid, etc. Sometimes written as two words (gender queer).

Adapted from The Fenway Institute

Health Equity

The idea that everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full health potential. No one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of their social position (e.g., class, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, health literacy) or socially assigned circumstance (e.g., race, gender identity, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexuality, geography, etc.).

The Boston Public Health Commission

Health Inequity

Differences in health status and mortality rates across population groups that are systemic, avoidable, unfair, and unjust. These differences are rooted in social and economic injustice, and are attributable to social, economic, and environmental conditions in which people live, work, and play (e.g., Black and brown babies tend to have much lower birth weight and higher infant mortality rates than White babies, even when controlling for individual behavior, income, and education of the mother). Health inequities are different from health disparities, though many people use these terms interchangeably. Disparities speak of differences across population groups (e.g., comparing health outcomes of an aging population to a younger population) and does not account for differences resulting from injustice.

The Boston Public Health Commission


The presumption that everyone is or should be heterosexual, that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Prejudice, bias, or discrimination is based on this presumption. Systemic oppression of all other sexualities outside of heterosexual.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit and from The Fenway Institute


Describes people who speak Spanish and/or who descended from Spanish lineage; includes people from Spain. Though there is some overlap, the term Hispanic is not interchangeable with Latin American, Latino/a, or Latinx which includes anyone from Latin America but not Spain. For instance, a person from Brazil, which is Portuguese-speaking, is considered Latino/a/x but not Hispanic.

Adapted from Merriam-Webster

Historically Underrepresented

This term refers to groups who have been denied access and/or suffered past institutional discrimination in the United States and, according to the Census and other federal measuring tools, includes African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics or Chicanos/Latinos, and Native Americans.

This is revealed by an imbalance in the representation of different groups in common pursuits such as education, jobs, and housing, resulting in marginalization for some groups and individuals and not for others, relative to the number of individuals who are members of the population involved. Other groups in the United States have been marginalized and are currently underrepresented. These groups may include but are not limited to:

  • Other ethnicities
  • Adult learners
  • Veterans
  • People with disabilities
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals
  • Different religious groups, and
  • Different economic backgrounds

Adapted from Emory University Office of Diversity and Inclusion and AAMC


A migrant is someone who moves temporarily to a new country while an immigrant is someone who will settle and stay permanently.

More specifically, migrant is an umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from their place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons. 

When someone enters the US without papers, referring to those people as undocumented immigrants, rather than illegal immigrants, promotes their humanity.

Adapted from International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Implicit Bias

Negative or positive associations people unknowingly hold, also known as unconscious or hidden bias. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness, providing unearned advantage to those in dominant groups and unearned disadvantage to those in marginalized groups. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to undermine individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that many people profess. The term “implicit bias” many times is used to avoid naming internalized racism, internalized sexism, etc.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


The fundamental and authentic integration of historically and currently excluded individuals and/or groups (e.g., Black, Indigenous, people of color, women, transgender and gender non-binary individuals, and the intersection of structurally marginalized identities) into positions, processes, activities, and decision and policy making in a way that shares power, values input and engenders belonging. In terms of understanding inclusion, we must understand who is excluded.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, informed by the NIH and AAMC

Indigenous / Indigenous Peoples

An umbrella term for the many populations that exist across the world - from the Arctic to the South Pacific - who are the descendants (according to a common definition) of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means. 

Indigenous peoples are distinct social and cultural groups, sharing collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. The land and natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being. They often subscribe to their customary leaders and organizations for representation that are distinct or separate from those of the mainstream society or culture. Many Indigenous peoples still maintain a language distinct from the official language or languages of the country or region in which they reside.

In the United States, indigenous peoples refer to Native Americans. In Canada, indigenous peoples are referred to as First Nation. And within each of those groups, there are various tribes, cultural practices, and languages. 

Although indigenous peoples have different customs and cultures, they face the same harsh realities: eviction from their ancestral lands, being denied the opportunity to express their culture, physical attacks and treatment as second-class citizens.

Indigenous peoples are often marginalized and face discrimination in countries’ legal systems, leaving them even more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Adapted from the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank


A Feminist theory first highlighted by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, sex and gender, and other dimensions of identity as they apply to a given individual or group, creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Intersectionality recognizes the multiple ways in which people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression.

Adapted from YW Boston and Oxford Dictionary


Describes a group of congenital conditions in which the reproductive organs, genitals, and/or other sexual anatomy do not develop according to traditional expectations for females or males. Intersex can also be used as an identity term for someone with one of these conditions. The medical community sometimes uses the term differences of sex development (DSD) to describe intersex conditions; however, the term intersex is recommended by several intersex community members and groups.

The Fenway Institute


Fear and hatred of Islam and the Muslim community. It often leads to hate speech and hate crimes, social and political discrimination, can be used to rationalize policies such as mass surveillance, incarceration, and disenfranchisement, and can influence domestic and foreign policy. 
Islamophobia does not include the rational criticism of Islam. However, it is Islamophobic for criticism of Islam to be generated for the sole purpose of advocating social and political measures that discriminate against and violate the rights of Muslims.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center and Bridge a Georgetown University Initiative


A gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent. The Spanish language, like many languages, is gendered, using the feminine and masculine binary (Latina/Latino) and relying on the masculine as the default. Latinx is more inclusive of those who identify as trans, queer, or non-binary. 
Note: there is not universal agreement on the use of this term. Among native Spanish speakers, the issue against the term is largely linguistic. Many people refer to themselves as Latino or Hispanic. Defer to how an individual identifies themselves. 

Adapted from Merriam –Webster


A sexual orientation that describes a woman who is primarily emotionally and physically attracted to other women.

The Fenway Institute


An acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and gender-diverse, and/or those who identify on the spectrum of sexuality and/or gender identity. 
Sometimes written as LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQ2, which is inclusive of two-spirit.

Adapted from The Fenway Institute

Marginalized Communities

Groups that are and have been confined to a lower status in society due to the unfair structures created by society. Such a group is denied involvement in mainstream economic, political, cultural and social activities, resulting in inequitable outcomes.  

Use “structurally marginalized” communities and/or populations to be very clear that this a result of unfair and unjust systems. 

Instead of using terms like “disadvantaged”, “underprivileged” and/or “vulnerable” to describe communities that have been structurally marginalized, consider using “disinvested” and/or “under-resourced”.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (such as people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, immigrants). In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

Dr. Derald Wing Sue, Columbia University


To refer to a person by a pronoun or other gendered term (e.g., Ms./Mr.) that incorrectly indicates that person’s gender identity.

Consider using gender neutral terms and not assuming one’s gender. Practice the use of pronouns in introductions and email signatures. 

See pronouns.


Hatred of women, often manifested in sexual discrimination, denigration, or violence against and sexual objectification of women.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit

Model Minority

A myth; a belief that Asian Americans have “made it” despite obstacles. A model minority is perceived as “better” than other structurally marginalized racial and ethnic groups, as if its members have overcome adversities, do not face racism, and don’t need anti-racist support.

The “model minority” image stratifies people of color by pitting the “good minorities” (Asian Americans) against “bad minorities” (Black/African Americans). But both communities are systematically deemed divergent from the White cultural norm — or “othered.” Further, this drives a wedge in a long history of cross-racial solidarity between Black and Asian American communities.


Adapted from the Washington Post, article by Margaret M. Chin and Yung-Yi Diana Pan

Myth of Meritocracy

A system that rewards merit (ability + effort) with success, like wealth, power, and privileges; success determined by individual achievement and not based on one’s inherited social status. Americans are more likely to believe that people are rewarded for their intelligence, skills, hard work and are less likely to believe that family wealth or the policies and systems that make success more available to some and not others, play key roles in getting ahead. And Americans’ support for meritocratic principles has remained stable despite the fact that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other industrialized countries. 

The American Dream relies on the concept of meritocracy, which is often considered a myth because it ignores the multiple factors that contribute to one’s achievements and status in society – 1) people do not start on equal footing, 2) it is not because of individual lack of will, effort, or intelligence, rather there are systems of oppression that inhibit marginalized populations from accessing resources that lead to health, wealth, power, and privileges.

Adapted from The Atlantic and informed by multiple sources including:


A newer term that’s used to describe individuals with diverse or variant cognitive functioning. Both neurodiverse and neurotypical originated as a more comprehensive way to describe autism, and now neurodiverse is used more broadly to include other developmental differences.

Neurodiversity is the concept that brain differences are just that: differences. So conditions like dyslexia, autism, ADHD are not “abnormal.” Though they may be disabilities, they are not flaws. They are simply variations of the human brain. 

The classification of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, bipolarity, as medical/psychiatric pathology has no valid scientific basis, and instead reflects cultural prejudice and oppresses those labeled as such.

The social dynamics around neurodiversity are similar to the dynamics that manifest around other forms of human diversity. These dynamics include unequal distribution of social power; conversely, when embraced, diversity can act as a source of creative potential.

Adapted from multiple sources including:


A newer term that’s used to describe individuals of typical developmental, intellectual, and cognitive abilities. In other words, it’s not used to describe individuals who have autism or another developmental difference.

Both neurodiverse and neurotypical originated as a more comprehensive way to describe autism.

Health Line


Describes a person whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional gender binary structure of girl/woman and boy/man. Sometimes abbreviated as NB or enby.

The Fenway Institute


Systematic mistreatment of particular individuals. Oppression is not just an isolated incident. Rather, it is a complex system of power, sustained and pervasive beliefs, laws or policies, behaviors, and feelings. In the U.S., there are many forms of often interlocking oppressions: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, ableism, etc. Because we possess many layers to our identities, we may experience oppression in one or some of our identities, and privilege in others.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit and Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and physically attracted to people of all gender identities, or whose attractions are not related to other people’s gender.

The Fenway Institute


Structural and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of particular kinds of masculinity and cisgender men. A system in which cisgender men have institutional control and dominance.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit

People of Color

A self-defined, asset-based term for people who do not identify as White, often abbreviated POC; used in place of minority, which connotes “less than” and in place of non-White, which is deficit-based. According to Loretta J. Ross, the term was started by women of color in solidarity with each other.

Note: Can be applied to groups and places, e.g. communities of color, faculty of color, students of color. 

Adapted from multiple sources, including Loretta J. Ross formerly of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (2011).

Performative Activism

Defined as activism that is done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause. A person who is taking part in performative activism would rather let it be known that they are not racist (sexist, homophobic, etc.) rather than actually seeking to change the racist structures within our country. Can also be applied to allyship.


  • Many corporations fall into this category to gain positive publicity, for instance, putting rainbows in their logos and sponsoring LGBTQ Pride parades, while at the same time, donating significant amounts of money to legislators who are actively working to diminish the safety and human rights of LGBTQ people. 
  • Performative activism is saying one thing, and continuing to make the same harmful choices and actions. It is lacking the humility and self-reflection to assess how you are contributing to injustices, whether intentionally or not, and what changes are required by you. While posting on social media is important and sometimes an accessible first step in one’s journey, continued growth and action are inherent to being an ally. 
  • “If you are not implementing your newfound education on racism in real-life environments and not just on social media, then you are not an ally.” 

Real allyship and activism requires taking on some risk and being in solidarity with those who are facing injustice. 

See ally.

  1. The Dangers of Performative Activism - VOX ATL
  2. Performative Activism is Basically Silence. Here’s Why. (swaay.com)

Personal Resilience

Individual skills, behaviors, and attitudes that contribute to physical, emotional, and professional well-being.

Physician Wellness Academic Consortium


An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center


Power and advantage derived from historical oppression and exploitation of other groups. An unearned right or immunity granted as a benefit, regardless of an individual’s personal effort and often invisible to those who have it because we are taught not to see it. The power structure of organizations and government through their infrastructure, policies, and practices reinforces the privileged group by advantaging them and disadvantaging others by creating barriers to attaining equal status. For example, White people in America are privileged in that their race will not limit their economic or educational prospects. Because we possess many layers to our identities (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, etc.), we may hold privilege in one or some of our identities, and less privilege in others.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center

Professional Fulfillment

Happiness, meaningfulness, self-worth, self-efficacy and satisfaction at work.

Physician Wellness Academic Consortium

Professional Vitality

A meaningful and productive work life, where people are able to reach their fullest professional potential. Valuing professional vitality means creating a workplace that invests in the emotional, physical, and professional wellbeing of its members, where all are supported so they can do their chosen work with passion, vigor, facility, efficacy, joy and satisfaction.

Adapted from Physician Wellness Academic Consortium (PWAC)


Words to refer to a person after initially using their name. Gendered pronouns include she and he, her and him, hers and his, and herself and himself. People may also use gender-neutral pronouns such as they, them, their(s). Or, they may be ze (rather than she or he) or hir (rather than her(s) and him/his). 

Note: When including the use of pronouns, refrain from describing them as preferred pronouns, which implies that it is optional or less important. Instead, describe them as “pronouns used” e.g., “what pronouns do you use?” 

Pronouns can be integrated into intake forms, when introducing yourself, in your email signature, on name tags, professors asking students at the beginning of the semester, etc.

See misgender for more information about the impact of using incorrect pronouns.

Adapted from Harvard Human Resources Glossary of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) Terms

Psychiatric Disability

Acute or chronic mental illness. Psychotic, schizophrenic, neurotic and similar words should only be used in the appropriate clinical context. Use psychiatric disability, psychiatric illness, emotional disorder, or mental disorder. Crazy, manic, lunatic, demented, psycho, and schizo are offensive.

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


An umbrella term describing people who think of their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms. Some people view the term queer as more fluid and inclusive than traditional categories for sexual orientation and gender identity. Although queer was historically used as a slur, it has been reclaimed by many as a term of empowerment. Nonetheless, some still find the term offensive

The Fenway Institute


A socially constructed way of grouping people, based on skin color and other apparent physical differences, which has no genetic or scientific basis. This social construct was created and used to justify social, political, and economic oppression of people of color by White people.

Adapted by Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center from Race: The Power of an Illusion

Racial Equity

The state in which race no longer determines one’s life outcomes. In terms of the workplace, those outcomes are recruitment, hiring, mentorship, advancement, leadership, retention, salary, overall wellbeing, and more. Racial equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive professionally and are free of racism, race-based harassment, bias, discrimination, and microaggressions. As a process, we apply racial equity when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their professional lives. In academic medicine, this means underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (URG), specifically Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander; it also broadly includes People of Color who may be well represented but do not share equal power and resources nor similar experiences to their White counterparts.

Adapted from the Center for Social Inclusion. According to the NIH’s definition of underrepresented groups (URG) in medicine and informed by the National Science Foundation.

Racial Inequities

Outcomes resulting from systemic racism and injustice, where people of color fare much worse than their White counterparts. We tend to use different terms to describe racial inequities such as “achievement gap” in education, “health disparities” in healthcare, neutralizing the cause of these differences. According to the 2015 Color of Wealth report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, there are significant differences in wealth (assets minus debts) by race in Boston. White people had a median household net worth of $247,000 compared to African Americans having $8. This is a result of unjust policies and systems that historically benefited White people and disadvantaged people of color and continue to do so. 

Adapted from the Center for Social Inclusion and informed by Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater Approach and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Color of Wealth report

Racial Justice

The creation and proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment and outcomes for all people, regardless of race.

Adapted by the Boston Public Health Commission from Race Forward


A system of power and oppression, codified into laws, policies, and institutions, based on the socially and politically constructed concept of race, that advantages the dominant group (White people) and disadvantages non-dominant groups (people of color). Racism operates in the following ways: 


  • Internalized Racism - The set of private beliefs, prejudices, and ideas that individuals have about the superiority of White people and the inferiority of people of color (can be conscious or subconscious). Among people of color, it manifests as internalized racial oppression. Among White people, it manifests as internalized racial superiority. 
  • Interpersonal Racism - The expression of racism between individuals. These are interactions occurring between individuals that often take place in the form of harassing, racial slurs, or telling of racial jokes. Interpersonal racism also includes doing nothing and/or being silent when harassing, racial slurs, or telling of racial jokes occur.  
  • Institutional Racism - Discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and practices, and inequitable opportunities and impacts within organizations and institutions, based on race that routinely produce racially inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantages for White people. Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they reinforce racial inequities.
  • Structural Racism - Racial bias across institutions and society over time. It’s the cumulative and compounded effects of an array of factors such as public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms that work in various, often reinforcing, ways to perpetuate racial inequity.

Adapted by the Boston Public Health Commission and Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center from Race Forward

Reverse Discrimination

Perceived discrimination against the majority group, especially resulting from policies enacted to correct past discrimination. While such discrimination may be racially motivated, reverse discrimination is not the same as racism because the former is not institutionally enforced. 

Claims of reverse discrimination are often a reaction to attempts to correct policies and practices that have systemically oppressed populations (i.e., justice)

UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit


Systemic oppression based on sex and/or gender. Gendered prejudice + power = sexism.

Adapted from UMass Medical and UMassMemorial Health Care’s Diversity + Inclusion, Diversity Toolkit

Sexual Harassment

Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that has the effect of creating a hostile or stressful living, learning, or working environment, or whenever toleration of such conduct or rejection of it is the basis for an academic or employment decision affecting an individual. Conduct is considered “unwelcome” if the person did not request or invite it and considered the conduct to be undesirable or offensive.

BU’s Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct (first paragraph)


A social construction that defines how people relate to one another in romantic, emotional, and/or physical ways. Though people are often assumed to be heterosexual (a frame of mind referred to as heterosexism), there are many sexualities that have existed across time and societies. Social and cultural forces regulate sexuality, and acknowledging the diversity of sexualities without prejudice is part of being in a pluralistic society.BMC’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery

BMC’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery

Social Stigma

Negative stereotypes and lower social status of a person or group based on perceived characteristics that separate that person or group from other members of a society.

Social stigma is commonly associated with being LGBTQIA+, being obese, having low income, having substance use disorders, having a physical or mental disability, having a mental health disorder, being foreign born, and more. Social stigma works to further marginalize people within society. 

Please refer to the Grayken Center for Addiction at BMC for more information and resources on how to reduce stigma related to substance use disorder and recover.

Adapted from The Fenway Institute and CDC

Stereotype Threat

Defined as a socially rooted psychological threat that occurs when one is in a situation or doing something for which a negative stereotype about one's group applies.

According to stereotype threat, members of a marginalized group acknowledge that a negative stereotype exists in reference to their group, and they demonstrate apprehension about confirming the negative stereotype by engaging in particular activities.


See also the classic paper by Steele and Aronson (1995) that describes stereotype threat, Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans.

Substance Use Disorder

The clinical term describing the occurrence of recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causing clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. Sometimes referred to as “addiction”, substance use disorders are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable and many people do recover.

  • SUBSTANCE USE - The use of a substance or substances, usually for the purposes of pain management and/or intoxication. This is the preferred term over substance abuse which some people believe implies negative judgement and blame. Instead, many recommend using the terms “substance use” or “non-medical use.
  • SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER - A term sometimes used to describe an array of problems resulting from the use of drugs and/or alcohol. It has also been used as a diagnostic label. Person with a Substance Use Disorder is the preferred term over terms like “alcoholic”, “addict”, or “junkie” which some people believe is de-humanizing and implies negative judgement and blame. Some people with Substance Use Disorders may refer to themselves as an “addict”, but this is not appropriate language from a provider in a clinical or professional setting.

To learn more about why words about addiction matter, check out Grayken Center for Addiction’s work on reducing stigma. 

Adapted from SAMHSA by the Grayken Center for Addiction.


An acronym meaning Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. A shorthand to describe one cohort of feminists who self-identify as radical and are unwilling to recognize trans women as sisters, unlike other feminists who do.

Viv Smythe, who coined the term.


The practice of making a cursory or symbolic effort to employ inclusive practices to give the appearance of inclusiveness and fairness. In the classroom, this could involve an instructor asking a student to act as spokesperson for a certain identity group, or hiring a TA from an underrepresented group to assuage criticism about inclusiveness and diversity in the classroom.

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning


An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Sometimes abbreviated as trans.

Although the word “transgender” and our modern definition of it only came into use in the late 20th century, people who would fit under this definition have existed in every culture throughout recorded history.

Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Some transgender individuals undergo a process called “gender transitioning” in order to match their gender identity more closely with their outward appearance. This can include changing clothes, names or pronouns to fit their gender identity. It may also include healthcare needs such as hormones or surgeries.

Human Rights Campaign used by BMC’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery;


Discrimination towards, fear, marginalization, and hatred of transgender people or those perceived as transgender. Individuals, communities, policies, and institutions can be transphobic.

The Fenway Institute


An umbrella term that encompasses a number of understandings of gender and sexuality among many Indigenous North Americans — has its roots in traditions and cultures dating back centuries. Sometimes acknowledged in the abbreviation of LGBTQ2.

Not all Native cultures conceptualize gender this way, and most tribes use names in their own languages.

The effects of colonialism in Native American communities resulted in both marginalization on the basis of racial/ethnic identity and also of gender and sexuality. Christian European colonizers condemned same-sex relationships and gender variance as sinful and used these beliefs to further dehumanize Indigenous people.

Adapted from Them. and Human Rights Campaign


An acronym used in academic medicine meaning underrepresented racial and ethnic groups; specifically refers to Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.

Please note: URG is not a permanent or fixed identity because it is based on demographics and representation.

The need for URG identification results from systems of oppression, particularly racism, which historically excluded people who are Black and/or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander from careers and within the field of academic medicine.

Although there is some overlap, URG is not interchangeable with the term people of color, which includes those of broader Asian descent.

Academic medicine made an intentional shift from using the term underrepresented minorities, as “minority” connotes “less than”.

Adapted from the NIH and informed by the National Science Foundation.


An acronym that refers to underrepresented minority. Underrepresentation is a result of historical and current exclusion from resources and pathways into positions of power. Academic medicine made an intentional shift from using the term underrepresented minority, as the term minority connotes “less than” toward underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (URG). See the definition of URG above for more details.

URiM is also sometimes used, meaning underrepresented in medicine. Refers to those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.

Please note: Like URG and other similar terms, URM is not a permanent or fixed identity because it is based on demographics and representation.

Informed NIH definition of URG

White Privilege

The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are White, separate from one’s level of income or effort. Generally White people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. White privilege does not mean that White people do not face challenges or struggles; it does mean that those struggles are not due to being White.

Adapted from Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center

White Supremacy

A historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by White peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

Adapted from Race Forward