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Inclusive Language

Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin Terminology Guide

Below is a list of common ethnic and racial identities and how to properly refer to them. This list is non-exhaustive and we suggest using the term preferred by the group and/or the individual to whom you are referring. When referring to groups of people, consider the necessity of referencing a person’s/people’s race, ethnicity, or national origin. Ask yourself: “Would I mention ‘White student’ or ‘White faculty member’ when discussing others?

The definition graphic below is a modified version of The Department of Diversity Initiatives of the USC Aiken Inclusive Language Guide and the American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines.





African American/Black

Black and African American are not always interchangeable. Some individuals prefer the term Black because they do not identify as African and/or American.


Individuals may identify as African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, or other.


If referring to a group in general, use “Black”.

Refer to groups as Black students, Black faculty members, etc., instead of “Blacks”.”

American Arab, Middle Eastern, and North African (AMENA)

While there is no standard definition, the Middle Eastern racialized group includes people with ancestry from countries or territories such as Jordan, Iran, and Palestine; and North African includes people with ancestry from countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Libya. 


People from AMENA countries have been racialized in the United States, especially after 9/11, so much so that the U.S. Census Bureau recommended the inclusion of AMENA as a category in the 2020 census (APA, 2019b; Krogstad, 2014), though ultimately this category was not used.

When using these terms, be conscious of individuals who may or may not be comfortable identifying with the label(s).

Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Desi

Asian refers to people who are citizens of countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, or to describe people of Asian descent. Asian Americans trace their origins to these regions.


Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian, Fijian and other peoples of the Pacific Island nations.


Desi refers to individuals whose cultural and ethnic identities are related to the Indian subcontinent and the diaspora.


Use Asian and Pacific Islander when referring to the relevant population in its entirety. Otherwise, use the preferred term of the individual or group.


Try to be specific when possible. For example, if you are referring to individuals from Japan, instead of saying “Asian,” use “Japanese.”


Oriental: Do not use to refer to a person or people. Only acceptable in some references to art objects, such as an oriental rug.

Refer to groups as Asian students, Asian faculty members, etc., not Asians

Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx, and Spanish

Although these terms are used interchangeably, they all mean different things. Check out the Latinx Resource Guide for more details.


Hispanic refers to people from or whose ancestors are from Spanish-speaking countries.


Latino, Latina, or Latinx (La-Teen-ex) is a person of Latin American descent who can be of any background or language. If the individual or group does not identify as either Latino or Latina, the gender-neutral term Latinx can be used. When referring to a group, generally use Latinx as gender inclusive.


Spanish refers to both a language and a nationality. A person who is from Spain or has origins from Spain is Spanish.

People from Latin America are both Hispanic and Latin(o/a)/Latinx. 


Brazilians who speak Portuguese are Latin(o/a)/Latinx but not Hispanic.


Spanish-speaking people in Spain and outside Latin America are Hispanic and Spanish, but not Latin(o/a)/Latinx.

Native American, Indigenous People

Although these terms are used interchangeably, they all mean different things, and some phrases are considered outdated. Check out the Native American/Indigenous Peoples Resource Guide for more details.


When possible, use a specific designation, clan, or tribe names such as Cherokee or Navajo. 


Native American is preferred unless the individual or group specifies otherwise. Occasionally some prefer American Indian; however, this is not universal.

The word “Indigenous” comes from the Latin word indigena, which means “sprung from the land; native.” Therefore, using “Indigenous” over “Aboriginal” reinforces land claims and encourages territory acknowledgments, a practice that links Indigenous Peoples to their land and respects their claims over it.

The term “Indian” is used only when referring to people from India, not Native Americans.


“First Nation” is a term used to describe Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are ethnically neither Métis nor Inuit. This term came into common usage in the 1970s and '80s and generally replaced the term “Indian,” although unlike “Indian,” the term “First Nation” does not have a legal definition.

If you are talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it's best to say either 'Indigenous Australians' or 'Indigenous People'. Without a capital "a," "aboriginal" can refer to an Indigenous person from anywhere in the world.

People of Color

Do not use the term “minority” to refer to individuals/students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Instead, use “people of color/students of color.”


BIPOC: Stands for “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.” This term is also used in place of “people of color” or “POC” to account for the erasure of Black people with darker skin and Native American people.

Do not use the term “colored people”

Underserved / Underrepresented

Do not use the term “minority” to describe people from diverse backgrounds.


When referring to multiple groups of students from diverse backgrounds, use “Underrepresented students”; however, use the specific group title when possible.

Use the term “underrepresented” when referring to multiple backgrounds, but its better to use specific titles if possible. Example: LGBTQ+ students, Black students, undocumented students, etc.

National Origins

Do not hyphenate national origins even if they are used as adjectives. The use of the hyphen is rooted in the history of the “hyphenated American’—an epithet used from the late 19th century to the early 20th century to ridicule Americans of foreign birth or origin.


Additionally, identifiers such as African American, Native American, and Asian American, are never hyphenated—even if they are used as adjectives.

Example: Irish American, Polish American, and Japanese American

Immigration Status

Do not use the phrases “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” to refer to individuals who are not U.S. citizens/permanent residents, who do not hold visas to reside in the U.S., or who have not had official residency. These words dehumanize the individual by stripping their identity down to a legal status. Instead of saying “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien,” use “undocumented”

Example: Undocumented students; Undocumented individuals

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