Say the right thing | Call to Action: Marketing and Communications in Higher Education


Most major colleges have a style guide in place with school approved logos, Pantone-specific school colors, and the usual editorial guides. But too often, an important guide is omitted: the right language to use around diversity.

There are many initiatives on campuses across the country to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in their communities. Appropriate language in written and oral communications should be one of them. This terminology and usage continually change and evolve, and agreed terminology guidelines have become essential. In short, the wrong word hurts – and the right word shows you got it.

As the parent of a non-verbal disabled child, I have always been sensitive to language. People outside of this world rarely understand how important correct terminology is. In fact, my family and I have been part of the “language police squad” for almost 20 years, simply as an advocate for the dignity and rights of my child.

Today, working closely with my editorial team and our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I help maintain – and regularly update – a Inclusive Language Guide as a separate page in our style guide and branding center.

Ours is divided into these sections: Race and ethnicity; Gender and sexuality; Pronouns, including gender neutral nouns; Handicapped; and a few others that don’t fit into the categories but are just as important. (For example: “Unless it is an official title or a direct quotation from a person or a historical document, use the terms enslaved person, slave owner and enslavement in the place of slaving away, slave owner and slavery recognize the humanity of those who have been or are enslaved, past and present. “)

Here are some suggestions from Adelphi’s guide:

  • Capitalize Black when dealing with people of African descent, and learn the correct way to refer to groups; that is to say, Black students, not Black.
  • Capitalize Indigenous by referring to the original inhabitants of a region.
  • Hispanic refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries. Latino / a / LatinX is a person of Latin American descent who can be of any origin or language. Spanish speakers in Spain and outside Latin America are Hispanic But no Latino / a / LatinX. Confused? Many are. According to the Pew Institute, only 3% of American adults who identify as Hispanic or Latino use the term LatinX; for this reason, in our communications, we prefer Hispanic.
  • The abbreviation AAPI means Asian American and Pacific Islander; we explain it in our guide, as it often causes confusion or is misrepresented as APPI.
  • Indian refers only to people from India. The correct term is Native American. Unfortunately, this note is still needed.
  • We allow the terms accessible parking and accessible elevators – not disabled, which is an offensive word to many.
  • First year is preferred to freshmen. Interesting way, The Chronicle of Higher Education and other higher education publications still often use the term freshmen, and sometimes Adelphi does too. Language changes sometimes take a long time.
  • Plural pronouns are increasingly accepted as gender neutral singular pronouns. In other words, instead of him or her we just use their. Last year, during our university’s Transgender Awareness Week, it was highlighted that fluency in pronouns is one of the most important ways to make gender non-conforming students feel honored and honored. respected.
  • We use person-centered language, i.e. disabled student, rather than disabled student – although many advocates increasingly prefer the term disabled.

This guide is frequently updated according to the requests of our community, which now has a space to affirm their preferred language. Some recent examples of changes:

  • The term LGBTQ + is being counseled to become LGBTQIA + be more inclusive.
  • Adelphi administrator and alumnus Emily Ladau ’17 recently noted how offensive the terms were in a wheelchair Where confined to a wheelchair are for those who use a wheelchair. She notes that she is, in fact, released thanks to her electric wheelchair. We added his favorite term, wheelchair user, to our guide this week.
  • Our Bridges to Adelphi program requested a change from session students with autism spectrum disorders To students on the autism spectrum because they thought the first was pejorative.

We must also remember that ultimately personal preference or self-identification should be respected and come before any academic guidelines. Stephen Shore, clinical assistant professor at our Ruth S. Ammon School of Education who often speaks on the subject of autism alongside renowned attorney Temple Grandin, proudly claims to be autistic.

As we note in the Inclusive Language Guide, “words have the power to unite or divide us, to make your audience feel accepted or rejected.” Communicators from other universities and colleges should create an online space for language that enlightens rather than offends. It is a small way for us in higher universities to create a kinder and more inclusive world.

Joanna Templeton is Editor-in-Chief and Senior Director of Content for UCOMM at Adelphi University.


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