Defining Our Terms
Words have power. Using the correct language is essential to communicate respect and inclusivity, acknowledge the complexity behind different issues, and can help us all understand a specific scenario before moving forward together. This is our list of commonly used words and phrases and how we define them. It is not a comprehensive list but rather is meant to serve as a starting point for communication and learning.
An acronym that stands for Asian American and Native American Pacific Island Serving Institutions. These are institutions of higher learning in which 10 percent or more of the student demographics are Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander. Learn more about the University of Minnesota’s designation.
An acronym that stands for Asian American and Pacific Islander. The term is used to describe a diverse and fast-growing population of 23 million Americans that include roughly 50 ethnic groups with roots in more than 40 countries. This includes all people of Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins to the countries, states, jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of these geographic regions.
A lifelong role in which people with privilege and power work to develop empathy towards other marginalized groups challenges and issues and use their power to make the marginalized group feel valued, supported and heard. Being an ally takes action.
reflects the fact that human variations do have a connection to the geography of our ancestors
The policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.
Hostility to or prejudice against Jewish people (Oxford Languages).
The fact of having and expressing strong, unreasonable beliefs and disliking other people who have different beliefs or a different way of life.
refers to the idea that races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value
A term that stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. It is based on the recognition of collective experiences of systemic racism and meant to emphasize the hardships faced by Black and Indigenous people in the United States and Canada. The use of this term is still evolving.
A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. The Associated Press recommendation is that lowercase ‘black’ denotes a color, not a person. Their style guide aligns with the long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino and Asian American. The Associated Press recommends not capitalizing white, recognizing that “white people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color.” (United States Census Bureau)
A person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part. One can take action and intervene by recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence an outcome; this is called bystander intervention.
Source: Oxford University Press and Lehigh University
Cultural competence has been a component of medical education for the past 30 years. The cultural competence frameworks seeks to promote “culturally sensitive” practice, and describes the trained ability of a clinician to identify cross-cultural expressions of illness and health.
a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and critique, to redressing the power imbalances in the physician-patient dynamic, and to developing mutually beneficial and non-paternalistic partnerships with communities on behalf of individuals and defined populations
A social system of customs, learned behaviors, and norms that a group of people develop and create together to ensure its survival and adaptation. It is also a system of values, habits, skills, ideologies, and beliefs.
A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.
difference or variation between groups
Diversity simply means variety. There are endless ways to be a diverse community - race, religion, ethnicity, economic background, geographic origin, gender, sexuality, ability, belief, and more.
A dominant culture is one that has established its own norms, values, and preferences as the standard for an entire group of people. Preferences and norms are imposed regardless of whether they contradict what is usual for other members of the group. The group tends to accept and adopt these behaviors and practices, even if they aren't shared.
A personal freedom. It is a powerful inner state that one can reach once they develop the skills to lovingly hold whatever emotion arises.
Source: Women of the Water
Enslaved person” separates a person’s identity from their circumstance; the term describes humans first and foremost, acknowledging that they are not a commodity, but rather a person who has had slavery imposed upon them. Similarly, “enslaver” is now recommended in many contexts over “owner” or “master”—terms that empower the enslaver and dehumanize the enslaved person.
equity vs. equality
Equity is the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair. Equality is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. The difference, and why we focus on equity, is that not everyone starts from the same place, faces the same barriers, or needs the same things.
denotes groups (e.g. Irish, Fijian) that share a common identity-based ancestry, language, culture and is often based on religion, beliefs, and customs as well as memories of migration or colonization
The advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes (Oxford Languages).
Formerly incarcerated/returning citizen/persons with a history of incarceration
“Formerly incarcerated” humanizes the individual. Consider this insight from An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language, by Eddie Ellis: “One of our first initiatives is to respond to the negative public perception about our population as expressed in the language and concepts used to describe us. When we are not called mad dogs, animals, predators, offenders and other derogatory terms, we are referred to as inmates, convicts, prisoners and felons. All terms devoid of humanness which identify us as ‘things’ rather than as people. These terms are accepted as the ‘official’ language of the media, law enforcement, prison industrial complex and public policy agencies. However, they are no longer acceptable for us and we are asking people to stop using them. “In an effort to assist our transition from prison to our communities as responsible citizens and to create a more positive human image of ourselves, we are asking everyone to stop using these negative terms and to simply refer to us as PEOPLE. People currently or formerly incarcerated, PEOPLE on parole, PEOPLE recently released from prison, PEOPLE in prison, PEOPLE with criminal convictions, but PEOPLE.”29(emphasis in original quote)
Social constructed categories of masculinity/manhood and femininity and womanhood.
How people conceptualize themselves as gendered beings, including one’s innate and personal experience of gender. This may or may not align with one’s gender expression or biological sex. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is “one’s internal sense of who one is, which results from a multifaceted interaction of biological traits, developmental influences, and environmental conditions. It may be male, female, somewhere in between, a combination of both, or neither (i.e., not conforming to a binary conceptualization of gender).”
growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
In a growth mindset, people believe that intelligence and talents can be improved and developed over time through effort, good teaching, and persistence. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their intelligence is fixed, static, and innate.
Source: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, PhD
health disparity/health equity
Health disparities are differences in health outcomes and their causes among groups of people.
Health equity is when everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
Hispanic and Latina/Latino are often used interchangeably in the U.S. to describe the ethnic identity of people with Latin American or Spanish ancestry. The term Hispanic has been used by the U.S. government since the 1970s and is used to signify descendants of Spain. The terms Latino/Latina gained popularity in the 1990s in both U.S. government data collection and popular discourse because it was deemed more inclusive of Indigenous and African descendants in the Latin American continent, and it does not center Spanish descent or language fluency. Latinx is a newer term that also describes people who are of or relate to Latin American origin or descent. It is a gender-neutral and nonbinary alternative to Latina/Latino. While awareness and acceptance of Latinx is thought to be low, there is growing acceptance of the term Latinx in the U.S., due to its inclusivity. Of note, many Hispanic, Latina/Latino/Latinx/Latine members prefer to identify using other terms including national origin. Furthermore, other terms like Chicano or Chicana are used historically and politically to signal social justice and advocacy inclusion and people still identify with this term, as well as terms that signify Indigenous heritage. Finally, the term Spanish is used regionally to identify descendants of Spain who also have other ethnic and national origins. Preferred terms vary regionally. Best practice is to consult the specific communities involved in discussion to ask their preference.
Historically marginalized or minoritized
Minority means “less than” and is now considered pejorative. In addition, groups have been made minorities by dominant culture and whiteness, thus minoritized. Importantly, marginalization and minoritization occurs not just with racial identities, but with other identities as well, including gender. At stake is the connection of status to power differentials. Minoritization is associated with a loss of power.
Rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. In response to widespread, horrific violations of human rights in the first half of the 20th century, the international community established The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and international human rights laws that lay down the obligations of governments to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights (APA, 2015b). Human rights are defined by the United Nations as “universal legal rights that protect individuals and groups from those behaviors that interfere with freedom and human dignity” (APA, 2021b).
The compilation of identifying labels anyone uses to represent themselves. Also a system of identifying labels ascribed to social groups that gives a sense of belonging to the social world based on sameness to groups (ex. sex, gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, ability, religion, spirituality, age, socio-economic status, language, political leanings, etc.).
Favorable and unfavorable attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases are activated involuntarily and without your awareness.
An environment that offers affirmation, celebration, and appreciation of different approaches, styles, perspectives, and experiences, thus allowing all individuals to bring in their whole selves (and all their identities) and to demonstrate their strengths and capacity. (APA, 2021b)
health differences that are avoidable, unnecessary, unfair and unjust
Originating from a culture with ancient ties to the land in which a group resides.
The action or process of bringing something under the control, dominance, or influence of the people native to an area (Oxford Languages).
refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism in conscious and unconscious ways (Kendi, 2019)
refers to discriminatory treatments, unfair policies, and biased practices based on race that result in inequitable outcomes for whites over people of color and extend considerably beyond prejudice (Kendi, 2019)
The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
The process of society moving from an unfair, unequal, or inequitable state to one that is fair, equal, or equitable. A transformative practice that relies on the entire community to acknowledge past and current harms to reform societal morals and subsequently the governing laws. Proactive enforcement of policies, practices, and attitudes that produce equitable access, opportunities, treatment, and outcomes for all regardless of the various identities that one holds.
Acronyms that refer to communities of individuals who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. Individually, the letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual. The plus (+) includes all other expressions of gender identity and sexual orientation and recognizes that definitions may grow and evolve overtime.
A small gesture of inclusion, caring or kindness. This includes listening, providing comfort and support, being an ally, and explicitly valuing the contributions and presence of all. It is particularly helpful for those with greater power or seniority to “model” affirming behavior.
A proposed antidote for microaggressions. Small-scale individual or collaborative efforts that empower targeted people and allies to cope with, respond to, and challenge microaggressions with a goal of disrupting systems of oppression as they unfold in everyday life, thereby creating more inclusive institutions.
Source: Kumar and Refaei 2021
Microaggressions are brief, commonplace, daily verbal behavioral or environmental indignities—whether intentional or unintentional—that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults. Macroaggressions are classes of groups of populations affected by biases, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that reside in the structures, programs, policies of institutions, society, and our customs
Source: New York-Presbyterian
Native Peoples/Indigenous peoples/American Indian and Alaska Native
Plurality (i.e. Native peoples) is often preferred to avoid the homogenization of indigenous peoples that so often occurs in dominant narratives. Native peoples/Indigenous peoples/American Indian should be used instead of Indian. According to the National Museum of the American Indian. “The consensus. However, is that whenever possible. Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many..”First Nations and First Nations peoples are accepted terms worldwide to refer to Indigenous peoples. It is critical to understand and acknowledge the diversity among Indigenous Peoples along with their strengths and the structural challenges they endure. To determine the term that is most appropriate for your context, ask the person or group which term they prefer. When referring to Native groups, use the terminology the members of the community use to describe themselves. The Native American Journalists Association has published guidance on best practices for avoiding common stereotypes that readers may find useful.
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.
The systemic and pervasive nature of social inequality woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness. Oppression fuses institutional and systemic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry and social prejudice in a complex web of relationships and structures.
Actions and beliefs that prioritizes masculinity. Patriarchy is practiced systemically in the ways and methods through which power is distributed in society (jobs and positions of power given to men in government, policy, criminal justice, etc.) while also influencing how we interact with one another interpersonally (gender expectations, sexual dynamics, space-taking, etc.).
People Of Color
A collective term for men and women of Asian, African, Latinx and Native American backgrounds, as opposed to the collective “White”.
Our social position or place in a given society in relation to race, ethnicity, and other statuses (e.g., social class, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, religion) within systems of power and oppression. Positionality refers to our individual identities and the intersection of those identities and statuses with systems of privilege and oppression. Positionality shapes our psychological experiences, worldview, perceptions others have of us, social relationships, and access to resources (Muhammad et al., 2015). Positionality therefore means actively understanding and negotiating the systemic processes and hierarchy of power and the ways that our statuses affect our relationships because of power dynamics related to privilege and oppression (APA, 2019b).
The capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others.
Source: UMN Office of Diversity and Equity
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Words to refer to a person after initially using their name. Gendered pronouns include she and he, her and him, hers and his, and herself and himself. “Preferred gender pronouns” (or PGPs) are the pronouns that people ask others to use in reference to themselves. They may be plural gender-neutral pronouns such as they, them, their(s). Or, they may be ze (rather than she or he) or hir (rather than her[s] and him/his). Some people state their pronoun preferences as a form of allyship.
Psychological safety is focused on creating a climate where all can feel comfortable. Where members can—or are even encouraged to—take interpersonal risks by speaking up and sharing concerns, questions, or ideas.
Source: National Institutes of Health
A socially constructed system of dividing humans into groups based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry.
The practice of using race as a biological construct (i.e., racial essentialism) results in harm for historically marginalized and minoritized groups, exacerbating health inequities. New AMA policy passed in November 2020 explicitly calls for ending the practice of using race as a proxy for biology in medical education, research and clinical practice. Race-based protocols exist and are being challenged in a wide range of areas: eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate), BMI risk for diabetes, FRAX (fracture risk assessment score), PFT (pulmonary function test), UTI (urinary tract infection), ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) and more. In contrast to a race-based approach, a race-conscious framework can promote anti-racist practices, shifting focus from race to racism in all its forms.
describes the systematic and fair treatment of all people so that everyone is able to achieve their full potential in life, regardless of race, ethnicity, or the community in which they live
A belief that race determines human traits and capacities and that racial differences result in the superiority of a race over another and the behavior or attitudes that reflect and foster this belief.
Sex assigned at birth
Sex, or more precisely, “sex assigned at birth” is a label typically assigned by a doctor at birth based on the genitals you’re born with. This may or may not align with how a person identifies themselves (see gender, gender identity).
social determinants of health
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
Constitutes a form of activism based on principles of equity and inclusion that encompasses a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and society as a whole.
To refer to racism, for example, as a “problem” is to not only diminish its seriousness but also to potentially blame people for their own marginalization. Referring to racism as a social problem further presupposes a possible solution through conventional, technical or bureaucratic approaches.
a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity
Refers to whites’ historical and systematic oppression of non-European groups that manifests in the structure and operations of racist societies like the United States. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, and education, among other factors (Kendi, 2019).
A term used within some American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) communities to refer to a person who identifies as having both a male and a female essence or spirit. The term encompasses sexual, cultural, gender, and spiritual identities, and provides unifying, positive, and encouraging language that emphasizes reconnecting with tribal traditions
Underrepresented Minority (URM)
A term used by the AAMC, before switching to UIM on June 26, 2003, to define a group consisting of “Blacks, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans (that is, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians), and mainland Puerto Ricans. The AAMC remains committed to ensuring access to medical education and medicine-related careers for individuals from these four historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.”
A person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.
A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. (United States Census Bureau)
URM/UIM/URiM (Underrepresented In Medicine)
White paper/whitelist/whitelabel/blacklist/blackball/blackmail (Reconsider need for white/black adjectives (e.g., white/blacklist can easily be changed to allow/deny list)
There are many terms in the English language that indicate white privilege. For example, a “whitelist” denotes a list of approved or favored terms; a “blacklist” denotes people, places, and things that are viewed with suspicion or disapproval.
A concept that highlights the unfair societal advantages that white people have over non-white people. It is something that is pervasive throughout society and exists in all of the major systems and institutions that operate in society, as well as on an interpersonal level.
Source: Verywell Mind
Student Voices: Abhishek Chandra, Class of 2023
I chose the University of Minnesota Medical School because of the emphasis on collaborative learning during didactic instruction, the value placed on engaging with patients within their communities, and the opportunities to participate in research throughout medical training. The shift towards competency-based education further encourages students to engage with material for the sake of learning and not simply for rote-memorization in preparation for exams.