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Inclusive Language

Introduction & Definitions

Social identities indicate who a person is in terms of the groups to which they belong. These social identity groups are based on an individual’s physical, social, and mental characteristics. Social identities include race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religious/spiritual beliefs. 
These identities are sometimes clear and obvious, sometimes unclear and not obvious, and can often be self-claimed and/or ascribed by other people. Government, schools, and employers often ask individuals to claim identity groups or ascribe one to an individual based on visual perception. Other social identities are personally claimed but not usually announced or easily visually ascribed, such as sexual orientation, religion, or disability status. Due to this, never assume the identities someone may have. It is generally always best to let a person be able to self-identify and self-disclose.

The identities someone holds shape their experience to make it unique, even in the same setting as someone else. These identities not only impact the way society treats or views an individual but also the way an individual interacts with others and their surroundings. This is because some identities hold more power and privilege than others.

  • Power: The ability to influence and make decisions that impact others.
  • Privilege: Advantages and benefits that individuals receive because of social groups they are perceived to be a part of. Privilege is often a result of systematic targeting and/or marginalization of another social group.

Identities also consist of multiple intersecting factors. For example, race, gender, and/or socioeconomic status lead to differences not only in biological markers (skin color or physical features) and cultural markers (types of clothing worn, etc.) but also in shared traditions, beliefs, and/or biases.

  • Intersectionality: An analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage. These intersecting and overlapping social identities may be both empowering and oppressing.

For instance, a low-income and transgender student might have a very different experience at Pratt than a more affluent cisgender student due to the ways that power and privilege affect how they move through the world, how others view them, and what is expected of them. 

Thus, understand how these words do not exist in a vacuum when referring to one’s identity. When language is misused or used incorrectly, it can be discriminatory. It is essential to use inclusive language to not perpetuate our society’s oppressive structures.

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