Inclusive Teaching

Speaking the Language of Inclusion

by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Many of us who are committed to inclusion are careful about the language we use. As we learn more about representing difference in our learning communities we find that language shifts over time, sometimes very quickly. Although we may recognize that the cultural weight our language carries can lend either positive or negative meaning to the terms we use to describe ourselves and others, we all need help from time to time to ensure the language we use continues to reflect the inclusive intentions we have.

And sometimes, we find out there’s a word for something we didn’t even know we needed. For me, most often, this happens because of a privilege I have not explicitly acknowledged. When one is a member of a majority group, one does not necessarily have a need for a term that refers to folks in that majority. For instance, people who identify as cisgender may not explicitly acknowledge that there’s a term to describe those whose sense of personal identity and gender correspond with their birth sex. (Insidiously, cisgender folks who don’t know there’s a term for that may implicitly think the “opposite” of “trans” is “normal” or some equally problematic synonym.)

As we strive to create inclusive, equitable learning environments in our courses, it’s important that we speak the language of inclusion – not just by professing our commitment to it, but by understanding the power of words to exclude and include. 

If you value inclusion, check out the Glossary developed by the LGBTQIA Resource Center at the University of California, Davis. It has all sorts of terms that may be useful to you, terms that touch on the highly intersectional nature of identity, not just terms directly linked to gender and sexuality. Before the start of the fall term, challenge yourself to skim the list and find one term you either don’t know or had an incomplete (or even erroneous) understanding of yourself. You never know when you’ll need that term to enact your commitment to inclusive learning environments.