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Inclusive and Affirming Language Guide

(Updated August 2021)

Among Salisbury University’s core values are diversity and inclusion. As such, we welcome and celebrate our diverse community of students, staff, faculty and alumni. We strive to create an inclusive atmosphere that respects the broad spectrum of identities and backgrounds of all. Inclusivity begins with our language. To that end, the University provides this living document on inclusive, welcoming language.

This is not a comprehensive guide, but it is meant to offer a path forward. We recognize that all languages shift over time, and we should continually examine and adjust our communications.

Should you have any questions or suggestions regarding the contents of this guide, or if you’re looking for guidance on certain word use, please contact:

To learn more about SU’s commitment to ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment, visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

This guide includes information adapted from University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Brand and Style Guide, Hamilton College , American Psychology Association – Bias-Free Language, and Northwestern University’s Editorial Guidelines.

Gender-Inclusive Language

Below are some commonly used titles and phrases that rely on an unnecessarily gendered perspective. These are only examples and do not capture the breadth of this practice, but please bear in mind that words with masculine markers (or feminine, though they are less common) can and should be replaced with non-gender-specific language. For example:

  • freshman → first-year student
  • mankind → humanity, people, human beings
  • the best man for the job → the best person for the job
  • man-made → synthetic, manufactured, machine-made
  • manning the booth → staffing the booth
  • chairman → chairperson, coordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair
  • businessman → business executive
  • congressman → congressional representative

Ask About Pronouns

The easiest way to know how to refer to someone is to ask how they refer to themself, including what pronouns they use. Modeling this behavior by first sharing your own pronouns creates an environment where people feel safe to share their pronouns. Singular “they” is an acceptable form to use if you are unsure, or you can use the person’s name in place of a pronoun.

In group settings, to avoid singling anyone out, make self-identifying pronouns a commonplace habit that is part of regular introductions. The first step to creating a welcoming atmosphere in person and in writing is treating others the way they want to be treated, and that includes utilizing an inclusive range of pronouns that reflect people’s identities.

If you are interviewing an individual or plan on writing about them, be sure to ask their pronouns to accurately represent them in the text.

In general usage, there are several alternative approaches to using a singular, gendered pronoun.

  • Recast into the plural.
    • Use: Give students their papers as soon as they are finished.
    • Not: Give each student his paper as soon as he is finished.
  • Reword to eliminate gender.
    • Use: The average student is worried about grades.
    • Not: The average student is worried about her grades

Use Gender-Inclusive Alternatives to Binary Assumptions

Instead of using expressions that include only two genders (i.e., ladies and gentlemen, sir and madam), the terms below allow your speech and writing to invite inclusion to all members of the community. The exact language that should be used in a specific situation depends on context and judgment. Examples of inclusive terms include:

  • Esteemed guests
  • This person
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Everyone
  • The participant
  • Faculty members
  • Family
  • People
  • Children

Writing About Race and Ethnicity

Terms used to refer to racial and ethnic groups continue to change over time. One reason for this is simply personal preference; preferred designations are as varied as the people they name. Another reason is that designations can become dated over time and may hold negative connotations.

Refer to the American Psychological Association’s information on Racial and Ethnic Identity for guidelines to help ensure you talk about racial and ethnic identity with inclusivity and respect.

Following the Associated Press (AP) style, SU capitalizes Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, but does not capitalize white. Read about the reasoning behind this decision in the AP’s article “Explaining AP Style on Black and White.”

Phrases denoting heritage, such as Asian American and African American should not be hyphenated.

Avoid the term “minority” if possible. “Minority” is often used to describe groups of people who are not part of the majority. This term is being phased out because it may imply inferiority and because minorities often are not in the numerical minority. An alternative might be “historically marginalized populations.” If it is not possible to avoid using “minority,” qualify the term with the appropriate specific descriptor: “religious minority” rather than “minority.”

Avoiding Racist Language

Some commonly used idioms carry racist undertones into our writing when it isn’t intended. Although benign in the intent, by continuing to use these idioms, we normalize the racism from which they emerged. In addition to ensuring that we aren’t perpetuating the white is good, black is bad fallacy, refer to this list of “insidious idioms” to watch out for.

Writing About Disabilities

When writing about disability, use the following tips to guide you:

  • Avoid negatively charged language:
    • uses a wheelchair rather than confined to a wheelchair
    • diagnosed with bipolar disorder rather than suffers from bipolar disorder
    • person with a physical disability rather than physically challenged
  • Do not use victimizing language such as afflicted, restricted, stricken, suffering and unfortunate.
  • Do not call someone “brave” or “heroic” simply for living with a disability.
  • Avoid the term “handicapped,” as some find it insensitive. Note that it is widely used as a legal term in documents, on signs, etc.
  • Do not use disabilities as nouns to refer to people. For example, use “people with mental illnesses” not “the mentally ill.”
  • Avoid using the language of disability as metaphor, which stigmatizes people with disabilities, such as lame (lame idea), blind (blind luck), paralyzed (paralyzed with indecision), deaf (deaf ears), crazy, insane, moron, crippling, disabling, and the like.
  • Capitalize a group name when stressing the fact that they are a cultural community (e.g., Deaf culture); do not capitalize when referring only to the disability.
  • Do not use terms like “normal” or “healthy” to describe people without disabilities.

Religious Language

SU is a community of people of all backgrounds who practice a variety of religious traditions and those who practice none. In producing content for broad audiences, content creators should show respect and recognition of this fact by avoiding language or imagery that centers on one religion, assumes shared religious-cultural experiences (or assumes religious affiliation in general) or elevates one religion over another.

Be conscious of the fact that holidays happen all year round, and people may hold celebrations and observances at times other than those you recognize. As communicators, we should aim to honor our community members’ religious traditions, encourage others to share them and learn about their experiences while still maintaining inclusive communications.

Guidance for Writers

  • Do not refer to the time between fall and spring semesters as “Christmas break” or “holiday break”; refer to it as “winter break.”
  • Steer away from words and phrases associated with a particular holiday, like “merry and bright.”
  • Do not assume a person’s religious identity based on their country of origin, appearance, social ties or name.
  • Be aware that people can identify in more than one way at the same time.
  • Avoid stereotypical depictions and negative labels.
  • Always capitalize Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. but do not use them as a substitute for a precise name of a denomination or subgroup, if applicable. Be specific and, wherever possible, let practitioners speak for themselves.
  • Be aware that terms like cult, sect, extremist, militant, radical and fundamentalist can have negative connotations and can be offensive. Seek out more precise terms to describe religious movements outside the mainstream in ways that practitioners self-identify.
  • Avoid subjective, value-laden terms such as devout and pious to describe religious communities and people. Possible alternatives include practicing or observant, but it is best to ask the subject how they describe themselves.

Additional Resources

As language evolves, this style guide will expand and update to encompass those developments. We welcome additional ideas for resources and feedback on the available information, and we invite you to see additional resources below.

SU Resources

External Resources