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Inclusive language is an integral tool in our pursuit of inclusive excellence. Our efforts to foster an environment that values and welcomes diversity of thought, identity and experience are rendered futile without a commitment to inclusive language. The use of terminology, pronouns, and descriptors that honor the members within the UAB enterprise and the communities we serve is vital in the execution of our university’s Shared Values and Strategic Diversity Plan.

This guide, created by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is a living document that will be revised periodically to align with current best practices in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It is designed to be the catalyst for implementing a more holistic and intersectional approach to communicating. We hope that users will find it especially helpful when referencing minoritized and marginalized identities, populations, and communities.

We invite you to review this document for guidance in preparing annual reports, course syllabi, lectures, presentations, press releases, etc. Thank you for your continued commitment to upholding the Shared Value of Diversity and Inclusiveness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


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Paulette Patterson Dilworth, Ph.D.
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion



Words carry meaning and power  

The ways in which we refer to individuals and groups of people can be evidence of respect—or they can convey disregard or scorn. Historic and systemic injustice toward some groups has created bias and prejudice that seeps into everyday language. Because language use is deeply ingrained, mirroring patterns and cultural norms learned from infancy, we may not always be conscious of the harm our words can inflict, especially if we belong to a group holding power.

- National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)

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Diversity is a defining feature of Alabama’s and UAB’s past, present, and future; and refers to the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. Such differences include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and more.

Equity is the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all students, faculty, and staff in every stage of UAB’s education and career development, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of marginalized groups.

Inclusion is the act of creating an environment at UAB in which any individual or group can feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued. An inclusive climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions so that all people can fully participate in the University’s opportunities.


It is important to note that race and ethnicity are not the same. According to the American Sociological Association, “race” refers to physical differences that groups and cultures consider socially significant, while “ethnicity” refers to shared culture, such as language, ancestry, practices, and beliefs. Socially and culturally, race and ethnicity are integral threads of a larger tapestry.

It is a human-invented classification and socially constructed system. It was invented as a way to define physical differences between people but has more often been used as a tool for oppression and violence (McAfee, 2017).

Race is understood by most people as a mixture of physical, behavioral and cultural attributes. The idea of "race" originated from anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century, who used geographical location and phenotypic traits like skin color to place people into different racial groupings. That not only formed the notion that there are separate racial "types" but also fueled the idea that these differences had a biological basis.

That flawed principle laid the groundwork for the belief that some races were superior to others — creating global power imbalances that benefited white Europeans over other groups (Bryce, 2020).


Asian American and Pacific Islander


The most inclusive and accurate term to use to refer to those who inhabited land that became the United States (or, previously, territories) is American Indian and Alaska Native. This is inclusive of terms such as American Indian, Alaska Native, Hawaiian Native, Native American, Native People, and Indigenous People.

American Indian and Alaska Native cultural identification is place-based, diverse, and sociocultural. Always ask someone how they prefer to be identified, including Hawaiian Natives. 

The person may prefer that you refer to them by their tribally specific nation. If a tribal name is used, ask for a phonetic spelling of the name.


Asian and Pacific Islander


Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American 


Asian includes “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.”

Asian category is something that got built up over time and based on the kinds of immigrants the United States excluded from entering the country, starting with Chinese immigrants in 1882, and continuing with more and more Asian countries, until 1917 when Congress created the Asiatic Barred Zone.


“An American of African and especially of Black African descent."

There was a time when being Black in America meant you were most likely descended from one or more enslaved Africans who had survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, as the number of African and Caribbean blacks immigrating to the USA has increased, so have the chances that someone who identifies as black or African American is a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Not all Black persons are African-American, and not all African-Americans are black. Use caution in using these terms interchangeably.

For example:

African-American is hyphenated when it is used as a compound adjective.

  • The Black Student Union held an event to educate the community on African-American holiday traditions.

African American is not hyphenated when African is an adjective modifying American.

  • As a proud African American, Tanya was excited to participate in San Antonio’s Martin Luther King Jr. March.

When an individual or group uses Black to identify their race or ethnicity, Black should be capitalized. This holds especially true when a group from multiple countries of origin—such as a group of African-Americans and Black Africans together.

  • The Kente ceremony celebrated honor, community, and connections for Black Tigers.

When describing an object or referencing the color, not in reference to race or ethnicity, black should be lowercase.


Expansion of People of Color. The other two letters, for Black and Indigenous, were included in the acronym to account for the erasure of black people with darker skin and Native American people.

Some pushback to the term is that it groups many separate identities into one group. Janus Adams, a historian who was one of the first children to desegregate the New York City public schools, argues that BIPOC is "a distraction."

“Everyone but White people lose their identity. White people keep their identity. White people keep their racial/cultural, nation-state, heritage identities, but Black people, Indigenous people, Asian people, Latino people all get subsumed into something.”


“Desi” as a noun or adjective has become the typical way for people of South Asian ancestry to identify members of their diaspora. The word comes from Hindi, with roots in ancient Sanskrit. It originally referred to someone or something native to a certain country, or “desh."

Anyone with heritage from the subcontinent—India, Pakistan or Bangladesh—can identify as a “desi” and partake in “desi” culture.


Refers to a group considered dominant (systematically advantaged by the society because of group membership) and a group considered subordinate or targeted (systematically disadvantaged).

Dominant groups, by definition, set the parameters within which the subordinates operate. The dominant group holds the power and authority in society relative to the subordinates and determines how that power and authority may be acceptably used.

Being born another race/color, woman, and homosexual can be labeled as subordinate identities because they are not as widely accepted as their counterparts.


Ethno-cultural term referring to the peoples, cultures, nations, languages, and histories of the eastern portion of the continent Asia.

Countries include: China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.


Ethnicity recognizes differences between people mostly on the basis of language and shared culture.

"A sense of common ancestry based on cultural attachments, past linguistic heritage, religious affiliations, claimed kinship, or some physical traits."


Race is a social construct that is not universal, so one must be careful not to impose racial labels on ethnic groups.

Be sure that the racial and ethnic categories you use are as clear and specific as possible.

For example, instead of categorizing participants as Asian American or Hispanic American, you could use more specific labels that identify their nation or region of origin, such as Japanese American or Cuban American. Use commonly accepted designations (e.g., census categories) while being sensitive to participants’ preferred designation.

Examples of ethnicity include being Indian, Jewish or Asian, regardless of race. So a female born to Japanese parents in Atlanta might consider herself as racially Asian, but as ethnically Japanese, American, Japanese- American or even just American (Cornell & Hartman, 2020).


Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent because Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese are the primary languages of Brazil.

Hispanic refers to anyone from Spain or Spanish-speaking parts of Latin America. It, therefore, promotes Spanish heritage, something many oppose because of the violent ways that they colonized certain countries and the erasure of Afro-Latinos and Indigenous people. Grace Flores-Hughes is the government official and Latina policymaker credited with coining the term.


Latino refers to people from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America, but it does not include those from Spain or Portugal. This word, however, typically doesn’t make room for people from Latin America whose countries were not colonized by Spain or Portugal, leaving out Belizeans and Haitians.


Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

Relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

A gender-neutral term that young people were using because they were “tired of reaffirming the patriarchy inherent in language.” For example: In Spanish, a group of women is referred to as Latinas, while a group of men or a mixed group — even one that is mostly women — is a group of Latinos. Feminists might balk at this the same way they’d balk at using he as a default pronoun or referring to mixed groups as “guys” but never “gals.” The subtext is the same: It’s a man’s world, you ladies are just in it (Mora, 2018).


To relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group, to the metaphorical margins of society. It is used to replace stigmatizing language such as ‘minority’. Marginalized acknowledges that social identities are either centered or othered in a society.

Example: “We are protesting laws and policies that marginalize women.”


Groups in any society that are defined as “minorities" by a dominant group that is numerically larger than the ethnic group. 

This involves a power relationship between dominant and minoritized groups who often prefer not to be labeled as a "minority" because of the suggestion that they are somehow subordinate to the larger dominant group.

Highlights the social oppression that minoritized individuals experience. 

Other relevant uses: Marginalized, Marginal


Refers to the Nation State that one was born into.


A person or people of color can identify with any race or ethnicity, and their identity can be respected through this term. Be sure to consider all communities of color through multiracial perspectives. Use “people of color” in place of “minorities” where appropriate.

Do not use the term “colored person/people.”

“People of color” is a term primarily used in the United States and Canada to describe any person who is not white. It does not solely refer to African-Americans; rather, it encompasses all non-white groups and emphasizes the common experiences of systemic racism.

In the late 20th century, the term “person of color” was adopted as a preferable replacement to “non-white.” Unfortunately, the contrast pits all people who have a “color” against people who do not have a color or who possess “whiteness.”

It is important to recognize that while “people of color” reaffirms non-whiteness, many people don’t like the term because they feel “it lumps all of us together.”


SWANA will eliminate the need for the “Middle Eastern” and “North African” subcategories, which were previously listed under the parent category of “White/Caucasian” and thus not tracked by the university (Yoder, 2013).

Roughly 3 million people of Southwest Asian, Middle Eastern or North African descent live in the United States, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data (Parvini, 2018).


A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.


Refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for individuals on a spectrum of feminine and masculine.

Gender does not exist only in binary terms like boy and girl or man and woman. There are many ways that someone can identify as it relates to gender. See Gender Expansive for more information.


Refers to anatomical, physiological, genetic, or physical attributes that determine if a person is male, female, or intersex. These include both primary and secondary sex characteristics, including genitalia, gonads, hormone levels, hormone receptors, chromosomes, and genes.

Often also referred to as “sex,” “physical sex,” “anatomical sex,” or specifically as “sex assigned at birth.”

Biological sex is often conflated or interchanged with gender, which is more social than biological and involves personal identity factors as well.

When someone’s biological sex is in alignment with their socially constructed gender, that person would be identified as Cis-Gender. (see Cis-gender)


This refers to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the one typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.


An umbrella term sometimes used to describe people that expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond what is perceived as the expected gender norms for their society or context. Some gender-expansive individuals identify as a man or a woman, some identify as neither, and others identify as a mix of both.

Gender-expansive people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm, and sometimes prefer using gender-neutral pronouns.

They may or may not be comfortable with their bodies as they are, regardless of how they express their gender.


The external display of one’s gender, through a combination of clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as “gender” presentation.

This communication may be conscious or subconscious and may or may not reflect their gender identity or sexual orientation. While most people’s understandings of gender expressions relate to masculinity and femininity, there are countless combinations that may incorporate both masculine and feminine expressions— or neither—through androgynous expressions.

An individual’s gender expression does not automatically imply one’s gender identity.


Internal perception of one’s gender and how they label themselves are based on how much they ender. Often conflated with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth.

GENDER PRONOUNS (also known as Preferred Gender Pronouns)

A personal gender pronoun, or PGP—sometimes called proper gender pronoun—is the pronoun or set of pronouns that an individual personally uses and would like others to use when talking to or about that individual.

In English, the singular pronouns that we use most frequently are gendered, so some individuals may prefer that you use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns when talking to or about them. In English, individuals use they and their as gender-neutral singular pronouns.

Replaces the term Preferred Gender Pronoun, which incorrectly implies that their use is optional.


A term, often used by the medical community, to describe individuals who dress, behave, or express themselves in a way that does not conform to dominant gender norms. (See gender expansive.)

People outside the medical community tend to avoid this term because they feel it suggests these identities are abnormal, preferring terms such as gender expansive and gender creative.


A negative term often incorrectly used to describe the lives of people who are LGBTQ+. Some dislike this term because it implies that being LGBTQ+ is a choice.


Often shortened to trans. A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.

This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression—such groups include, but are not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous.


Terms like Transgender and Cisgender would never be referenced as past tense with the -ed suffix. These words are adjectives, not nouns. Adjectives do not have a tense. Additionally, transgendered suggests that being trans is something that happens to someone, as opposed to an identity someone is born with.


A trans man is someone who identifies as a man but was designated female at birth. A trans woman is someone who identifies as a woman but was designated male at birth. Some trans people prefer to leave the word transgender or trans out altogether since they only identify as a man or woman.

Writers shouldn't use "transman" or "transwoman." The word trans is an adjective that helps describe someone's gender identity, and it should be treated like other adjectives. Merging the adjective and the noun risks suggesting that a trans man or woman is more (or less) than just a man or just a woman, which goes against how many trans people identify themselves.

Common Acronyms:


Acronym meaning Assigned Male at Birth. AMAB people may or may not identify as male some or all of the time. (See Gender)


Acronym meaning Assigned Female at Birth. AFAB people may or may not identify as female some or all of the time.


A trans male/masculine person who was assigned female at birth.


A trans female/trans feminine person who was assigned male at birth. Often considered an overmedicalized and somewhat outdated term.


A less frequently used—and sometimes misunderstood—term which refers to people who use (or consider using) medical interventions such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries (GAS), also called sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or pursue medical interventions as part of the process of expressing their gender.

Some people who identify as transsexual do not identify as transgender and vice versa. Transsexual is considered by some to be outdated or possibly offensive.

What is the key difference between Transsexual and Transgender?

The word Transgender refers to people who identify differently from their biological sex. For example, a transgender person who is biologically female may feel that a male identity is a better fit and take the following steps:

  • Use a male name instead of a female name.
  • Use male pronouns instead of female pronouns.
  • Dress as a man.
  • Engage in activities that are typically associated with men in that culture.

A Transsexual is a person who physically transitions from male to female or vice versa.

She/He/They might take hormones to suppress the characteristics of the biological gender or promote the characteristics of the desired gender.

Transsexuals may also decide to have gender reassignment surgery, in which – to the extent that is possible – the anatomical features of the biological gender are removed and the features of the desired gender are added.

These definitions are not strict, however. Some feel that the word transsexual should not always refer to physical changes.

Additionally, some transsexuals no longer refer to themselves as such after they have finished their transition. They call themselves either men or women.

It is important to recognize that you should use the language that one uses for themselves when referring to someone in speech or writing. Gender identity can be as unique to an individual as their finger print; never make assumptions about gender based on presentation or stereotypes of gender.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion at UAB extend to include those who are first-generation college students and those from low-income, underrepresented and underserved populations. Students from these backgrounds may find it challenging to pay for college and afford the basic needs that tuition, room, and board do not provide. Some of those students may also be supporting their families by working while being part- or full-time students.


A first-generation college student is a student whose parents’ highest educational level is a high school diploma. A parent or parents may have attended college but did not obtain a degree.

First-generation is hyphenated when used as an adjective, as in "first-generation student." First generation goes without the hyphen when “first” is the adjective modifying generation, as in: The students were the first generation to use the athletic fields for graduation.


Pell-eligible students are eligible to or are receiving the federal Pell grant because they or their families are considered by the U.S. government as low-income. Pell-eligible is not a substitute for low-income, as not all low-income students are Pell-eligible (eligibility is determined by citizenship or green card status).


Underrepresented students, faculty, or alumni are from racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic populations that have been historically and are disproportionately represented in higher education. Underrepresentation can also include first-generation college students.


Those who are low-income and historically underrepresented can be considered underserved but should be substantiated by understanding their background. Underserved often includes a nod to minority, marginalized populations or first-generation students.



The ADA law, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.


Legislation passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.


Legislation passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.


A comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.



Any change in the working or learning environment or the way things are done that enables a person to enjoy equal opportunity. Reasonable accommodations may be requested based on religion or disability.


Locations, spaces, events, and other collateral are referred to as accessible when they meet criteria for use by disabled and non-disabled people alike.

Accessibility may also include accounting for individuals who communicate in different languages, have hearing or vision impairments, and other cognitive and learning disabilities.

AWARE (Always Working to Advocate, Retain & Employ) - The AWARE program at UAB provides disability- management services when an employee’s job is affected by a physical, mental, or emotional impairment.

Through a unique partnership between UAB and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS), the AWARE Program assists current employees and their departments, job seekers going through the application process, veterans, and employees returning from long-term disability or medical leave. In addition, the AWARE Program coordinates requests for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Some people with mild or moderate hearing loss may affiliate themselves with the Deaf community and prefer to be referred to as “deaf” instead of “hard of hearing.”

Alternatively, some who are deaf and don’t have a cultural affiliation to the Deaf community may prefer the term “hard of hearing.

Lowercase when referring to a hearing-loss condition or to a deaf person who prefers lowercase. Capitalize for those who identify as members of the Deaf community or when they capitalize Deaf when describing themselves.

“Deaf” should be used as an adjective, not as a noun; it describes a person with profound or complete hearing loss. Other acceptable phrases include “woman who is deaf” or “boy who is hard of hearing.


Disability Support Services (DSS) is committed to making UAB programs and services accessible to students with disabilities. To prevent discrimination based on disability in all UAB student programs and services, the primary goal of DSS is to ensure an accessible university environment by working with students, faculty, staff and community agencies to provide appropriate accommodations.


As an adjective, disabled may refer to a person or persons whose disability is central to the story being told (a disabled person). Disabled should never be used without people-first language, nor as a noun.

If needing to also reference those without a disability, “nondisabled” is acceptable. Do not use “able-bodied” or “normal.”

A disability is generally defined as a condition that restricts a person’s mental, sensory, or mobility functions to undertake or perform a task in the same way as a person who does not have that disability.


This term 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.


This term should never be used to refer to the fact that someone has a disability-a disability is not an illness. Given that any disability implies a situation of unequal opportunities, it will effectively “disappear” when the barriers to a person’s interaction with their surroundings are eliminated.


As described under Title IX, steps taken to ensure equal access to education programs and activities, and/or to stabilize a situation by providing remedies and accommodations to a reporting student and the campus community where appropriate due to either sexual violence or pregnancy or parenting student status.


Sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal.”

Neurodivergent is quite a broad term. Neurodivergence (the state of being neurodivergent) can be largely or entirely genetic and innate, or it can be largely or entirely produced by brain-altering experience or some combination of the two.

Autism and dyslexia are examples of innate forms of neurodivergence, while alterations in brain functioning caused by such things as trauma, long-term meditation practice, or heavy usage of psychedelic drugs are examples of forms of neurodivergence produced through experience


Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.

Neurodiversity is not a trait that any individual possesses. Diversity is a trait possessed by a group, not an individual. When an individual diverges from the dominant societal standards of “normal” neurocognitive functioning, they don’t “have neurodiversity,” they are neurodivergent.



Status defined by law. Citizenship, married, single National Origin/Regional Background. Shared ethnicity from a country or certain part of the world.


Status of being a member or citizen of a particular country.


Examples: United States, Nigeria, Korea, Turkey, and Argentina.


Examples: Cherokee, Navajo, Chickasaw, and Aboriginal


Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning

Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.

Culture is also what we do and how we behave and perform (for example, theater, and dance). It informs and is encapsulated in how we walk, sit, carry our bodies, and interact with others; how we behave depending on the place, time, and "audience;" and how we express identities of race, class, gender, and sexuality, among others. Culture also includes the collective practices we participate in, such as religious ceremonies, the celebration of secular holidays, and attending sporting events.

It is important to note that culture is not synonymous with race or ethnicity. Culture could refer to someone’s way of life, hobbies, religion, generation, or interests.


The conscious or unconscious of switching between languages, dialects, or intonations depending on the specific situation of who one is speaking to, what is being discussed, and the relationship and power and/or community dynamics between those involved. BIPOC are safer in some situations if they code-switch.


Cultural appropriation is the act of members of dominant/powerful/privileged groups claiming ownership of, or the rights to, less powerful/privileged groups' cultural and/or religious symbols, dress, and ceremonies.


A form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem.


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.


The practices of inequitably calling attention to particular social groups in a specific language while leaving others as the invisible, de facto norm: for example, "black male suspect"(versus "male suspect," presumed White); "WNBA" (as opposed to "NBA," presumed male).


Language, as a facet of culture, is ever-evolving and transforming to better articulate and represent our diverse identities. This document will be reviewed and revised on a semi-annual basis to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence.

Version: June 8, 2021



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