Inclusive Language Guide


Language is not neutral and has an impact on individuals emotionally. Part of our aspirational goal as a university community is to create a more inclusive East Bay. One step towards that creation is being intentionally mindful of the language we use.

Language allows us to "see" each other and honor the lived experience of the persons we interact with. For example, using the correct pronouns of the person we are interacting with allows us, in a simple yet meaningful way, to let them know that we value them and how they identify. Using inclusive nonbinary language also allows for all to be included.  We hope to learn daily, constantly, to become more adept in illustrating our inclusive practices through language as an institution. 

Guidance for inclusive writing or spoken language on:


Language is constantly shifting and changing, particularly as it pertains to identity. Staying informed on inclusive language can seem like a daunting task. No community is monolithic, so there will always be variations within and across communities. Review this language guide for some best practices and tips to help you incorporate inclusive language into your daily practice at work. Remember to check this resource regularly for updates and changes. 

Self-reflection checklist (provide additional context)

  • Prior to conducting an interview or writing content ask yourself the following questions
    • Who is my target audience?
    • What type of language am I using to describe the subject? Is it asset based?
    • What does the addition of identity add to the content?
      • Does it add meaning to the content or are you using their identity as a buzzword or to add shock value?
    • What is your intention behind including identity?
      • Is the intention to generate benefits for the university ( i.e. raise funds, increase enrollment, increased visibility)? If the intention behind including identity is to benefit the university, it must also benefit the person being interviewed.

Be mindful of hidden and obvious offensive, derogatory terms or coded language.

  • Examples:
    • Hayward native: Using the word “native” to describe individuals born and raised in an area contributes to the erasure of Native Americans and indigenous people.
    • Highly qualified Latinx candidate: Qualifying adjectives may imply that the “highly qualified” Latinx candidate is an exception to the norm.
    • Illegal alien: Lack of immigration documentation does not make a person “illegal.” Using the term “illegal” is dehumanizing. No human being is illegal.

Practice humility, stay open to being corrected on the language that you use. 

  • Mistakes can and will happen. It is not feasible to include every word in this guide. You can avoid mistakes by actively listening and asking individuals how they identify.
  • In some situations you may be required to conduct your own research to correct a mistake. Whenever possible utilize resources from the community you are writing about. If you are writing about disability, you will get more accurate and reliable information from the Center for Disability Rights Press Guide than an article published by a communication professionals organization. For example, many LGBTQ+ organizations included the singular they pronoun in press guides years before it was included in the AP style guide in 2017.

When using terminology be mindful and avoid stereotypes or discrimination. Use asset-based, or positively positioned language, not deficit-based language.

  • When we use deficit-based language we are focusing on problems, barriers and challenges experienced by an individual or community. This can lead the audience to assume that the individual or community is the problem rather than the external forces of oppression. Whereas asset-based language focuses on the strengths and achievements of an individual while also acknowledging the challenges. Deficit-based language is the dominant approach in journalism and content creation today. For an example of how this plays out, watch this news clip, See football player's sweet promposal for special needs girl. In the video the narrator introduces Luis by mentioning an accomplishment, his role on the football team. His parents also mention many of his positive attributes. When introducing Tiffany the narrator proceeds to list her medical conditions and symptoms. In the video Luis is described as a kind and charitable football player. Tiffany on the other hand is essentially described as a burden and a problem because the reporter took a deficit- based approach to the interview. 

Deficit Based

Asset Based

The communities we serve are strong and powerful.  The communities we partner with are strong and powerful.
The program seeks to reduce dropout rates. The program seeks to increase graduation rates.
These students have limited English proficiency. My students are bilingual and emerging English learners.
  • When possible, be as specific as you can to describe people. Most importantly, consult with the person and ask how they would like to be identified. Never assume. Noting a person’s identity can be an important affirmation and recognition and needs to be included.
  • Use person-first language. If it is relevant and important to distinguish the elements of a person’s identity, focus on the person, not the identity. Historically, identity-focused language, such as "the homeless," has been used to dehumanize marginalized communities. Person-first language also more accurately reflects the complexity and multi-faceted nature of identity.  
    • Examples:
      • The homeless vs. people experiencing homelessness
      • Disabled people vs. people with disabilities
  • Avoid the “his or her” possessive and rephrase the sentence with a plural antecedent “their”. Use gender neutral language.
    • Examples:
      • All newly admitted undergraduate students must pay the $110 required nonrefundable pre-enrollment fee and accept their offer of admission by the required deadline.
      • Instead of Freshman use– first year student (replace the word “man” in words that are exclusive of gender and serve no purpose.)
    • Using gender neutral language can sometimes feel uncomfortable, confusing or unnatural if you are not accustomed to the practice. It is important to note that most people actually use gender neutral language all of the time, for example when talking about an unborn child.
  • Asking about identity/navigating uncertainty
    • Ask from a place of respect 
    • Avoid othering or alienating individuals and communities.    
    • Reference to video for examples.
  • Interview Questions:
    • Mock example: Inclusive Language Guide Mock Interview
    • Etiquette 
      • Pronouns
      • Correct pronunciation of name
      • Correct spelling
      • Honor vulnerability, the interviewee is sharing deeply personal information and perspectives treat the conversation as such. Remember that you are not entitled to any information and thank the interviewee for the information and perspectives they chose to share.
    • Email introduction:
      • Reference video for mock example

Gender & Sexual Identity

There are many different gender identities and sexual orientations. The identities are deeply personal and have long been policed by society. LGBTQ+ identities have been labeled as unprofessional, or pushed out of the public sphere. The LGBTQ+ community encompasses many different identities that are constantly evolving, for this reason it is important to listen to the individual you are working with and maintain their ownership over their identity and personal story. If you are ever unsure of an individual's identity, just ask, never assume!

Broad terms 

  • Gender Identity - The manner in which any individual experiences and conceptualizes their gender, regardless of whether or not it differs from the gender culturally associated with their assigned sex at birth. Gender identity is not necessarily visible to others
  • Sexual Orientation - Any individual’s romantic, emotional, and/or physical attraction to or lack of attraction to other persons. Sexual orientation is distinct from a person's gender identity and expression and exists on a continuum rather than as a set of absolute categories
  • LGBTQ+ - The umbrella term that encompasses all non-heterosexual non-cisgender identities. The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning  
  • Queer - A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQ."

Other Relevant Terms 

  • Lesbian -A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) 
  • Gay - The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people).
  • Bisexual - A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. Do not use a hyphen in the word "bisexual," and only capitalize bisexual when used at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Transgender - An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms - including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the person.

For a more in-depth overview please watch the video, What is LGBTQA+?

Non-Inclusive and Positive & Affirming Examples


Positive & Affirming Examples

Transgendered or Transsexual Transgender, Trans, or person of trans experience.
Homosexual Gay, Lesbian, Queer, etc.
Any student who does not complete his or her application before the deadline will be charged a late fee. Any student who does not complete their application before the deadline will be charged a late fee.
Gay community (when used as an umbrella term) LGBTQ+ community
What are your preferred pronouns? What are your pronouns?


Terms to avoid:

  • Avoid terms that are framed as preference. These terms invalidate the identities of the individual in question because they imply that the aspect of their identity is not temporary or optional.


Positive & Affirming Examples

Preferred pronouns Pronouns
Preferred name Name
Sexual preference Sexual orientation
  • Avoid medical diagnostic terms, such as gender identity disorder, homosexuality, transsexual. Many of these terms were used to classify LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses.

Race & Ethnicity

Avoid generalizations and stereotyping based on race and ethnicity. Don’t assume that other people of the same race or ethnicity will have the same preference. Additionally, never assume someone’s race or ethnicity. Ask them if it is appropriate for the context.

Broad terms

  • BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Some individuals and groups have embraced this descriptor, while others feel alienated or unacknowledged by it. Use specific descriptors if it is known or relevant.
  • Underserved the words underserved and underrepresented are often used interchangeably to refer to communities that have historically been oppressed. In our campus environment it is better to use the word underserved. Cal State East Bay is not a predominantly white institution (PWI). Despite the robust representation of diverse communities on our campus, many of these communities lack institutional support. For these reasons underserved is a more accurate and relevant description. 
  • Ethnicity A social construct which divides individuals into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base. Examples of different ethnic groups are: Cape Verdean, Haitian, African American (Black); Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese (Asian); Cherokee, Mohawk, Navaho (Native American); Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican (Latino); Polish, Irish, and Swedish (White).
  • Race A social construct that artificially divides individuals into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.  Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories.

Non-Inclusive and Positive & Affirming Examples


Positive and Affirming Examples

This is our new student intern and she is from Africa. This is our new student intern and she is from Ghana, a country in Africa.
Chinese-American Chinese American
I had a great conversation with one of our Black student workers today. I had a great conversation with one of our student workers today.


Terms to avoid

  • Avoid using broad terms and descriptors when referring to individuals or specific communities. The more specific we can be, the more accurate and respectful our language choices will be. 
    • Consider for example using the term Asian to describe a student that has lived their entire life in the United States. Using this term does not encompass their whole identity and implies that the individual in question is not an American. A better practice would be to identify them as an Asian American. The best practice would be to use their ethnicity in lieu of broad racial categories, such as Laotian American. 
    • Using broad terms and descriptors in situations where it is not necessary erases the identities of those present.  For example, if you are speaking to a group of students who have all shared their Indian ethnic identity, do not refer to them as BIPOC. Use the term South Asian, Indian, or Indian American (if appropriate). 
  • Avoid using language rooted in colonization. Colonization is the mechanism by which White European cultural practices became the dominant norm. For this reason many words rooted in colonization implicitly uphold white and european culture and practices as normal or superior. Other words rooted in colonization have also been used to actively subigate, oppress, and exotify different communities. 


Positive & Affirming Examples

Oriental Asian or East Asian
Third-world country Low-income country
Primitive Early or rudimentary
Savage Do not use. This word has long been used to dehumanize and harm Native Americans and Indigenous people. It should not ever be used.
Civilized Do not use. This word is often used to imply other groups lack sophistication or development. It can also be used to police the response and behavior of others ( i.e. I was trying to have a civilized conversation).


People with Disabilities

There’s more to using inclusive language for individuals with disabilities than person-first language. Our language is full of words and phrases that perpetuate ableism discrimination. These such terms contribute to the lesser treatment of individuals with disabilities. Examples include: Blind, crazy, crippled, dumb, lame, special needs, etc. Instead, always try to use neutral language. Remember to always ask someone what terminology they personally use.

Non-Inclusive and Positive & Affirming Examples


Positive & Affirming Examples

Handicap parking Accessible Parking
Handicap stall Accessible stall
On the spectrum Neurodiverse


Terms to avoid 

  • Avoid using any diagnostic language unless specified by the individual in question. Diagnostic language is often very heavily stigmatized, personal, and rooted in the medical model of disability.
    • Avoid using the experiences of people with disabilities for dramatic effect.

Ableist Microaggressions

Alternative Language

My concerns fell on deaf ears. My concerns were not addressed.
The department couldn’t turn a blind eye to the problem. The department couldn’t ignore the problem.
… the latest craze sweeping the campus. ….the latest fad sweeping the campus.
I’m OCD when it comes to office organization I’m precise when it comes to office organization.


Citizenship Status

Inclusive language around immigration status affirms and acknowledges the legitimacy of everyone as human beings.


Positive and Affirming Examples

Illegal alien Undocumented




This is an evolving guide of phrases and information to improve Cal State East Bay’s sense of belonging and inclusiveness. If you have a recommendation for an addition, or would like to provide greater insight on an existing entry, please email