University Terms and Definitions Key
Language is powerful. Many of the terms we use today are situated within an evolving historical narrative that continues to impact how each of us navigates the world. The goal of providing background and definitions for the terms listed below is to help us improve dialogue about a variety of social topics. When we better appreciate the power of our words and the weight they carry, we can reduce several misunderstandings by strategically thinking through the way we describe our thoughts and experiences. More importantly, a common linguistic framework helps us to listen and better understand each other as we engage in these exchanges.
As a university striving to be a place where all belong, we must recognize that the historical unequal distribution of power, privilege and resources, itself a mark of diversity, which simultaneously impacts current experiences and future possibilities of individuals engaged in higher education in the United States. In order for belonging to take place, each person and their experiences must be centered.
As a public university for the public good, it is our responsibility to ensure that each student, faculty, staff, and community member has the ability to participate without barriers and to feel affirmed. At BGSU this means understanding the power of our words and the language we choose to use.
Diversity is the recognition of intersecting identities and social hierarchies, particularly related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, and socio-economic status. (Modified from BGSU Inclusion Network, 2012, as cited in Student Affairs Diversity Committee, 2014).
Belonging is an ongoing process of finding and creating connections. It is about the extent to which students, faculty, and staff feel valued, respected, included, and empowered. When people belong, they experience being affirmed by the campus community, inclusive of the people, physical spaces, and organizational structures within that community (adapted from Strayhorn, 2018, p. 4).
Equity is the practice of ensuring that personal or social circumstances, such as protected class or intersecting identities, are not obstacles to achieving one’s potential. Equity is reflected in policies and processes which acknowledge that we live in a world where not all members are afforded the same resources, treatment, and opportunity, and works to remedy this fact (modified from Equity and Quality in Education, 2012).
Inclusion is an active process that engages the community to cultivate an environment that sustains and affirms all members, particularly those from historically marginalized or minoritized groups. It is a commitment to distribute privilege and influence across differences and a willingness to act on this commitment (BGSU Focus on the Future Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and Diversity Strategic Plan Committee, 2019).
Social Justice is “both a process and a goal” of realizing the “full and equal participation of all groups in [the University] that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of [the University] in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure” and which individuals are “able to develop their full capacities” while capable of “interacting democratically with others” from a position of empowerment and agency and “social responsibility toward and with others.” (The 2014 BGSU Student Affairs Diversity Committee developed this definition, which is quoted from and informed by Lee Anne Bell’s discussion of social justice in her chapter “Theoretical Foundations for Social Justice Education” published in M. Adams, L. A. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd ed., 2007); New York, NY: Routledge)
ACPA/NASPA Social Justice and Inclusion Competency Area. “Social justice is defined as both a process and a goal that includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to create learning environments that foster equitable participation of all groups and seeks to address issues of oppression, privilege, and power. This competency involves student affairs educators who have a sense of their own agency and social responsibility that includes others, their community, and the larger global context. Student affairs educators may incorporate social justice and inclusion competencies into their practice through seeking to meet the needs of all groups, equitably distributing resources, raising social consciousness, and repairing past and current harms on campus communities.” (ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators, 2015, p. 30).
Climate, as defined by Dr. Susan Rankin, is “the current attitudes, behaviors and standards of faculty, staff, administrators and students concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities and potential." Respect is one of the most critical words in this description. It is not just the experience of individuals and groups on a campus; it is also the quality and extent of the interaction between those various groups and individuals that determines a healthy campus climate. Diversity and inclusion are extremely important aspects of campus climate. (Rankin, University of California Campus Climate Study, 2014).
Minoritized “signif[ies] the social construction of underrepresentation and subordination in U.S. social institutions, including colleges and universities” (Harper, 2012, p. #9). For the purpose of Bowling Green State University’s Division of Student Affairs, minoritized is one word that can be used to describe students, faculty, and staff who hold one or more identities in social groups that are often systematically oppressed (e.g., people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, non-Christian) (Vacarro & Newman, 2016).