Equity & Inclusion Glossary of Terms


Aboriginal refers to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. These are three distinct peoples with unique histories, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs1.

  • Context & Usage
    The term Aboriginal may be used when referring specifically to the Indigenous peoples of Canada.Please also see Indigenous.

Accessibility / Accessible

Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities2.

  • Context & Usage
    In the university context, accessibility – or lack thereof – may impact the capacity for individuals and groups to achieve equitable results.Please also see Universal Design.

Colonialism / Colonization

Colonialism is a set of policies and practices by which a political power from one territory exerts control over a different territory. It involves unequal power relations3.

Colonization is the invasion, dispossession, and subjugation of peoples. The long-term result of such dispossession is institutionalized inequality. The colonizer/colonized relationship is by nature an unequal one that benefits the colonizer at the expense of the colonized4.

  • Context & Usage
    Canada experienced settler colonialism as Europeans aggressively took lands from Indigenous peoples. Over time, these peoples were displaced and greatly outnumbered3. The effects and mechanisms of colonialism continue to impact power structures today. 

Conflict Fluency

Conflict Fluency is the intellectual capacity to inquire into and understand the workings of any given conflict from multiple perspectives, the strategic ability to choose among a set of approaches in one’s repertoire for constructively engaging each conflict, and the emotional facility to be aware of one’s and other’s feelings and attend to them.

  • Context & Usage
    In the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion, conflict fluency inevitably relies on some measure of diversity competency

Conflict Literacy

Conflict Literacy is a set of basic knowledge and skills that allow individuals to prevent, work through, and de-escalate conflict as it naturally emerges in the context of their life and work. This set includes emotional awareness and conscious expression of emotions, asking good questions and listening to understand, articulating one’s view and advocating for oneself, taking perspective, receiving feedback, participating in creative problem solving, and growing the self and improving the relationship.

  • Context & Usage
    In the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion, conflict literacy inevitably relies on some measure of diversity competency


Culture is a social system of meaning and custom that is developed by a group of people. It is distinguished by a set of spoken and unspoken rules that shape values, beliefs, habits, patterns of thinking, behaviours, customs, styles of communication5. It is an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations6. It is dynamic and changes with time7.

  • Context & Usage
    The term Culture is used to describe a broad set of social norms. Culture is sometimes thought of as being the particular customs, beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. In the context of the Equity & Inclusion Office, this usage is considered inaccurate; these instances should make use of more specific terms, such as ethnocultural6. The term can also be used in other commonplace instances, such as workplace culture and pop culture6

Cultural Humility / Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural Humility is the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person]”8.  It is a basic knowledge of the diversity, worldviews, spiritual, and cultural values of different peoples, and the historical and contemporary issues that influence them.

  • Context & Usage
    Cultural Humility counters the concept of cultural or diversity “competency,” which may suggest the mastery of knowledge or skills. Cultural Humility implies that we can never know everything about others.
    Please also see Diversity Competency

Cultural Identity / Background

Cultural Identity or Background is the identity or feeling of belonging to a cultural group, which is part of a person’s self-conception and self-perception. It is related to any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture and can be defined in groups or individuals, by themselves or others. In cases of stereotyping and unconscious bias, this is framed in terms of difference or otherness.

  • Context & Usage
    TBD – suggestion needed. 

Cultural Safety

Cultural Safety is a concept that originated and is primarily used in the healthcare domain. The concept emphasizes the power imbalance inherent in the patient-practitioner relationship.

The term was developed by Maori nurse Irihapeti Ramsden in the context of nursing care provided to Indigenous peoples in New Zealand. The term has since been extended and applied to Indigenous peoples in other countries where service inequalities persist. This concept shifts power and authority to the Indigenous patient receiving care, who is given the ultimate say in whether care provided was culturally safe or not. It centres upon sharing: shared respect, shared meaning, and shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity and attention10,11.

  • Context & Usage
    A transformation of relationships where the needs and voice of the voiceless individual or group take a predominant role.  It moves beyond cultural competence in that it analyzes power imbalances, institutional discrimination, colonization and colonial relationships as they apply to social policy and practice11

Cultural Competency /Intercultural Competency

Please see Diversity Competency

Difference / Differences

Differences are qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from one another. Differences are the wide variety of individual and group/social variations that constitute Diversity12.

  • Context & Usage
    Diversity is a concept meant to convey the existence of difference, and difference refers to the specific ways in which people or groups vary from one another. 

Disability  / Persons with disabilities

Persons with disabilities are defined by UBC Policy 73 as persons who:

  • Have a significant and persistent mobility, sensory, learning, or other physical or mental health impairment, which may be permanent or temporary; and
  • Experience functional restrictions or limitations of their ability to perform the range of life’s activities; and
  • May experience attitudinal and/or environmental barriers that hamper their full and self-directed participation in life13.


  • Context & Usage
    For the purposed of the Equity & Inclusion Office, a disability may be medically defined or self-identified. 


Diversity refers to the wide variety of visible and invisible differences that contribute to the experiences of individuals and groups14. These include both individual and group/social differences.

Individual differences include, but are not limited to:

  • Personality;
  • Learning styles; and
  • Life experiences.

Group/social differences include, but are not limited to:

  • The protected grounds defined in the B.C. Human Rights Code, and UBC’s Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment: age, ancestry, colour, family status, marital status, physical or mental disability, place of origin, political belief, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, criminal conviction unrelated to employment15;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations; and
  • Social class.16


  • Context & Usage
  • Diversity is a concept meant to convey the existence of difference.  At UBC, diversity is all of us – each one of us is unique, and together we make up an exceptional, diverse, community. Each person’s unique combination of differences contributes to their experiences in ways that can be both positive and negative.
  • Diversity is not a spectrum or a measure. One person cannot be more diverse than another. Diversity is created when people who are different from one another come together, and includes everyone in the room.

Diversity Competency

Diversity Competency refers to a set of congruent behaviours, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among individuals to enable that system, agency, or those individuals to work effectively across differences. Diversity Competency is needed in order to “communicate and engage with others who are different from oneself in interactions characterized by reciprocity, mutual understanding, and respect.”19

Diversity Competence consists of four areas: awareness, knowledge, skills, and actions or behaviours. 17,18,19


  • Context & Usage
    The Equity & Inclusion Office favours the term Diversity Competency over other similar terms, such as Intercultural Competency and Cultural Competency. This is because Diversity Competency more accurately reflects our broader understanding of diversity, including the presence of intersectionality. It differs from terms such as “intercultural competence” and “multicultural competence” because it considers the “full range of attributes that comprise diversity, whether associated with [ethno-]cultural differences or not.” 19

Diverse Groups / Diverse Students / Diverse Populations

For the purposes of clarity, these are not preferred terms for the Equity & Inclusion Office. Interpretation varies widely among these terms, and they are commonly used incorrectly.

  • Context & Usage
    When using the word diverse, it should only be applied to an entire collective (e.g., the entire student body is diverse), and not for a subset of a collective, nor as a euphemism for historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized people (e.g. “diverse students were less likely to feel sense of belonging”). The latter usage assumes that the other part of the collective is “not diverse”, which is rarely accurate and can imply that certain identities or aspects of diversity are fundamentally different from the rest of the group20.

Engaging across differences (Work effectively across differences)

Engaging across difference refers specifically to interactions between people or groups, i.e. working and/or interacting with people who are different than you in ways characterized by reciprocity, mutual understanding, and respect.

  • Context & Usage
    When one engages across differences in a way that enriches learning, we are referring to the collaboration of those who are different from one another, which deepens learning by broadening perspectives.
    Please also see Engage with diversity

Engaging with diversity

Engaging with diversity refers specifically to working with the concept of diversity, not interactions between people. By engaging intellectually with the concept and exploring how this might impact the way we view our world, diversity competency will be increased21.

  • Context & Usage
    The Equity & Inclusion Office is moving towards Inclusive Excellence, which includes enhanced learning, research, and community engagement due to active engagement with diversity.
    Please also see Engage across difference


Equity refers to achieving parity in policy, process and outcomes for historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized people and groups while accounting for diversity.

It considers power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes, in three main areas:

  • Representational equity: the proportional participation at all levels of an institution;
  • Resource equity: the distribution of resources in order to close equity gaps; and
  • Equity-mindedness: the demonstration of an awareness of, and willingness to, address equity issues.22


  • Context & Usage
    In the university context, equity requires the creation of opportunities for Historically and/or Currently Underrepresented and/or Marginalized populations of students, staff, and faculty to have equal access to education, programs, and growth opportunities that are capable of closing achievement gaps 23, 24

Historically and/or Currently Underrepresented and/or Marginalized

Historically and/or Currently Underrepresented and/or Marginalized refers to the collective whole of those experiencing negative social, educational, and power-related impacts due to issues related to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion.


People or groups with insufficient or inadequate representation in various aspects of university life.


People or groups who have been (intentionally or unintentionally) distanced from access to power and resources and constructed as insignificant, peripheral, or less valuable/privileged to the campus community or “mainstream” society. We use this term to describe a social process, not to imply a lack of agency.

Historically Underrepresented and/or Marginalized

The underrepresentation and marginalization of a group may have their origins in the past in ways that impact the present moment.

Currently Underrepresented and/or Marginalized

The underrepresentation and marginalization of a group is not historically rooted but contributes to exclusion nonetheless.


  • Context & Usage
    For the purposes of clarity, the above are considered the preferred terms used by UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office. Related terms that are not preferred include excluded, underserved, misrepresented, disadvantaged, peripheral. 


Inclusion refers to actively, intentionally, and continuously bringing historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized individuals and/or groups into processes, activities and decision/policy making in a way that shares power25. Inclusion seeks to achieve equity.

The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect—in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within (and change) systems and institutions26,27.

  • Context & Usage

Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive Excellence is a strategic framework developed to help campuses:

  1. Integrate their diversity and excellence efforts;
  2. Situate this work at the core of institutional functioning; and
  3. Realize the educational benefits available to students and to the institution when this integration is done well and is sustained over time28.


  • Context & Usage
    The Inclusive Excellence (IE) model is grounded in work from the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). Through the IE framework, the AAC&U aims to change the way we talk about diversity and inclusion. Institutions must expand the conversation beyond diversity as a moral good29. The new discussion situates diversity and inclusion as fundamental to excellence. UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office’s application of Inclusive Excellence is premised on the following guiding principles:

    • Cultural and social differences of learners enrich and enhance the University.
      A welcoming campus community actively engages all of its diversity in the service of student and institutional learning.
    • Excellence cannot be achieved without inclusion.
      We need structural and systemic support for all students, faculty, and staff – with particular awareness for historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized groups – in order for students to thrive, and for the university to achieve excellence in research and teaching.
    • Inclusion is more than just numbers.
      It is not enough to welcome historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized (whether students, staff, or faculty) on campus; their experiences enrich the learning environment, and their wellbeing while attending matters.
    • Systems-change must be prioritized.
      We need to examine policies, procedures, and practices, and set up measurable outcomes to keep the university accountable.
    • Collaboration and partnerships are key to success.
      Inclusive Excellence builds upon existing strengths and cannot be created in isolation from relationships across the institution. 


Indigenous is a term used to encompass a variety of Aboriginal groups. It is most frequently used in an international, transnational, or global context. This term came into wide usage during the 1970s when Aboriginal groups organized transnationally and pushed for a greater presence in the United Nations (UN).

In the UN, “Indigenous” is used to refer broadly to peoples of long settlement and connection to specific lands who have been adversely affected by incursions by industrial economies, displacement, and settlement of their traditional territories by others. For more on how this term was developed, please see our section on global actions.30

  • Context & Usage
    The term Indigenous may be used when referring specifically to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, but may also refer to Aboriginal peoples globally. For example, a person of Maori descent who is living in Canada can also be considered Indigenous.
    Please also see Aboriginal


Intersectionality is a feminist sociological theory that refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, sexual identity,  and gender identity as they apply to a given individual or group. Intersectional identities create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage31.

  • Context & Usage
    By creating awareness of intersectionality, our understandings of difference and diversity will be more well-rounded, contributing to Diversity Competency

Unconscious bias / Implicit Bias

Unconscious (or implicit) biases are mental processes that operate outside of our consciousness, intentional awareness, or control. They are “based on our own background, culture, and personal experiences and often originates at a very early age.” 32

  • Unconscious bias is quick, stereotyped ways we have of thinking about people.
  • Unconscious bias is based on pervasive cultural stereotypes.
  • Unconscious bias has practical consequences.
  • Type of thinking that leads to assumptions based on limited information.
  • Social stereotypes about groups of people that we form unconsciously
  • We all do it, we can learn to notice when we are doing it, and can mitigate its negative effects.
  • Context & Usage
    The Equity & Inclusion Office identifies  four types of unconscious bias:33

    Affinity Bias

    Affinity bias is the tendency to be biased toward and feel more kinship towards, people who seem more like us people who are more like us. It may be based on some aspect of identity that we share with that person, or it could be similar interests and backgrounds. Affinity bias can have a profound impact on who gets opportunities in the workplace.

    Confirmation Bias

    Confirmation bias is the tendency to more easily accept facts that align or agree with our existing beliefs and opinions. Confirmation bias can have an effect on our ability to make good decisions if we have a hard time accepting new information that contradicts what we believe.

    Performance Bias

    Performance bias is an assessment of people’s competence based on some aspect of their appearance or identity. It is usually the result of stereotypes and assumptions about a group of people and how well someone who belongs to this group would perform in the classroom or in the workplace.

    Attribution Bias

    Attribution bias affects how people see success and what they attribute it to. This type of bias causes some groups of people to be perceived as naturally capable. For example, research shows that attribution bias can be related to gender: a woman’s success at traditionally male tasks tends to be attributed to effort, whereas a man’s comparable success is attributed to natural ability.


Universal Design

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it34. Universal design constitutes the equitable access to spaces, objects, environments, and services.

  • Context & Usage

  1. Adapted from aadnc-aandc.gc.ca
  2. Adapted from inclusive.vcu.edu
  3. Adapted from fnn.criaw-icref.ca
  4. Adapted from LaRocque, E. (n.d.). Colonization and racism. Retrieved from nfb.ca.
  5. Adapted from culturallyconnected.ca
  6. Adapted from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
  7. Adapted from www.colorado.edu
  8. Hook, J.N. (2013). Cultural Humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology
  9. Yeung, Sharon (2016). Conceptualizing Cultural Safety: Definitions and Applications of Safety in Health Care for Indigenous Mothers in Canada. Journal for Social Thought 1(1)
  10. JOGC, June 2013, Chapter 8, page S39 and National Aboriginal Health Organization Fact Sheet in April 2009
  11. Consulted fnha.ca
  12. Adapted from The New England Resource Center for Higher Education
  13. Adapted from universitycounsel.ubc.ca
  14. Adapted from The New England Resource Center for Higher Education
  15. Adapted from universitycounsel.ubc.ca
  16. Adapted from aacu.org
  17. Adapted from https://inclusive.vcu.edu/media/inclusive-excellence/DiversityandInclusionDictionary.pdf 
  18. Adapted from https://www.csd.udel.edu/content-sub-site/Documents/CSD%20factsheet%20DC%20-%20framed.pdf
  19. Adapted from  http://www.uky.edu/diversity/sites/www.uky.edu.diversity/files/Rethinking%20Cultural%20Competence%20in%20Higher%20Ed.pdf
  20. Adapted from http://sk.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/reference/download/diversityineducation/n656.pdf
  21. Adapted from https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2016.1271690
  22. Adapted from New England Resource Center for Higher Education
  23. Adapted from Association of American Colleges and Universities, University of Southern California Center for Urban Education.
  24. Adapted from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
  25. Adapted from aacu.org
  26. Adapted from Association of American Colleges and Universities, University of Southern California Center for Urban Education.
  27. Adapted from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
  28. Damon A. Williams, Joseph B. Berger, and Shederick A. McClendon, Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Postsecondary Institutions.
  29. Alma Clayton-Pedersen, Making Excellence Inclusive, pg. 20.
  30. Adapted from http://indigenousfoundations.web.arts.ubc.ca/terminology/
  31. Adapted from Oxford Dictionaries Online, Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  32. Adapted from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1043659617713566
  33. Introduction to Unconscious Bias Condensed Handout, November 2017, Alberta Status of Women
  34. Adapted from http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/