Communicating in a Diverse Community

Language can have a significant impact on the quality of our interactions. Many times, we do not intend to exclude or offend others by the words we choose. We may simply lack information about, and sensitivity to, certain words or phrases. Being aware and mindful of our language, both written and oral, can help create a supportive and inclusive climate.

While some basic suggestions are offered below, the key to communicating effectively in a diverse community is to treat all people with respect and consideration regardless of characteristics such as age, gender, gender identity, race, color, religion, national origin, height, weight, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or political preference.

General Guidelines

  • Pay special attention not to limit or imply limitations for anyone to participate in any activity, occupation, or area of study. For example, "his disability will preclude him from doing this job,” “women shouldn’t play certain sports.”
  • Speak of all members of the university community—students, faculty, and staff—in relationship to the issues at hand and the abilities of those involved.
  • Assign tasks on the basis of ability rather than gender, race, disability, or other irrelevant stereotypical characteristics. For example, "we need a man to lift this computer."
  • Diversity in leadership and presenters is important in supporting an inclusive environment.
  • Every reasonable effort should be made to assure that meeting places are barrier-free and can accommodate persons with disabilities.
  • Every person at a meeting or gathering should be given opportunities to participate.
  • "In-group" references and comments, while they may enhance the workplace for the in-group, may create an unwelcoming or hostile working or educational environment for non-members.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are likely to be present at every meeting or event and in every racial and ethnic group. Be sure to avoid language that stereotypes or patronizes.
  • Avoid stereotyping or patronizing racial or ethnic groups, LGBT persons, or persons with disabilities in news stories, anecdotes or hiring practices.

Race and Ethnicity

  • Avoid qualifiers that imply that all members of specific ethnic groups or races are the same, e.g., suggesting that all persons of a certain ethnicity are good at athletics or math.
  • If you specify race or ethnic origin, be certain it is relevant.
  • Avoid language that has questionable racial or ethnic connotations, e.g., “you people” or “those foreigners.”

Gender and Gender Identity

  • Use gender-neutral words/phrases in your language, e.g. journalist, fire fighter, chairperson. Avoid the use of "man" or "woman" in job titles.
  • Address both female and male perspectives with phrases like "employees and their spouses or partners."
  • Avoid describing men by profession and women by physical attributes.
  • Use "gender" rather than "sex" to differentiate between men and women.

Ability Status

  • Use "person first" language, e.g., "person with a disability" or "student with a disability."
  • Avoid using the term “disability” as an adjective, e.g. the disability community.
  • Avoid using adjectives as nouns, e.g. "the deaf, the blind, the disabled." Rather, use "people who are deaf.”
  • Plan for and provide alternate forms of communications at events and gathering. This might include having interpreters, providing written materials in print format or in Braille, or providing oral interpretation for all visual information.

Sexual Orientation

  • Use "sexual orientation" rather than phrases like "the gay lifestyle" or "sexual preference."
  • Use the phrase "partner or spouse."
  • When discussing families, be inclusive of families that are headed by same gender partners or lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender single parents and recognize the presence of LGBT youth in families.
  • When using the terms "diversity" or "multicultural," and reference is made to specific groups, include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in such statements.  

Age

  • Mention age only when it is relevant.
  • Permit people of all ages to speak for themselves rather than assuming you know what they want.
  • Avoid making inappropriate assumptions about people based on their age.

Communicating in a diverse environment takes awareness, openness, and practice. The overall goal is to be sensitive and try to communicate in a way that everyone can feel included.

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