Inclusive Language

San Diego State is committed to cultivating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, staff, faculty and community members. An important component of such an environment is the language that we use. The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) defines inclusive language as language that “acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.” How we communicate can both reflect and perpetuate implicit biases so for many people, ensuring that we are using inclusive language can require a conscious effort to reflect on the implications of our word choice and to develop new habits. The resources on this page are intended to provide some guidance for that work.

Some overarching guidance, from the University of Oregon’s resource on Inclusive Language:

“But we also know that language is fluid. The meaning and connotations of words can change rapidly. It is more important to apply inclusive language principles rather than learning specific appropriate phrases, as these may change in meaning over time.

It is important to consult, as much as possible and is reasonable, with any individual or group that is a subject of any communications work, particularly those from any underrepresented populations. In addition, preferred language and terminology may vary among individuals, including those from a specific group (e.g., Latino, Latina, or Latinx). Do not assume one person represents all members of a particular community but acknowledge their experience and knowledge as a member of that community. When appropriate, make reference that the descriptive terminology you are using is at the bequest of a particular individual or group.”

  • The University of Oregon’s resource provides several additional guidelines worth noting. For example:
    • Terminology that refers to attributes or identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, age, or immigration or veteran status can adversely overemphasize an identity, feed stereotypes, or be discriminatory.
    • Conversely, there are times when noting a person’s identity or attribute can be an important affirmation and recognition and needs to be included.
    • Consider context. For example, would you include a particular characteristic or identity for any group? What is being accomplished by noting the characteristic or identity? Would you use the term “white professor” or “heterosexual musician” in this specific context?
    • When possible, be as specific as you can to describe people. For example: “Chinese” rather than “Asian”; “Guatemalan” instead of “Hispanic”; “Lesbian” or “transgender” rather than “LGBTQIA.”
    • When in doubt, ask a person how they would like to be identified, which includes what pronouns they prefer.
  • Northwestern University's Inclusive Language Guide provides a discussion of what inclusive language means and several examples of what to say in lieu of outdated or problematic language;
  • The Inclusive Communications Task Force at Colorado State University has compiled a large list of words/phrases to avoid, with explanations of why they are problematic and suggestions for alternatives;
  • The Conscious Style Guide curates articles and resources related to inclusive language, organized by identity category;
  • SDSU’s editorial guide from StratComm includes guidelines for all campus communicators, based on the AP Stylebook