(Source: Texas A & M Diversity Dictionary)

The Diversity Dictionary is intended to be used as an educational tool. There are many applicable definitions to these terms as well as numerous other terms which may not be represented here. This list was not designed to serve as an official Purchase College statement or definition. If you would like to suggest a revision or addition to the Diversity Dictionary, please contact us


Ableism: Prejudice and/or discrimination against people with mental or physical disabilities.

Active Racism: Actions which have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in the targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of the targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of the agent group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of People of Color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values.

Affirmative Action: A policy designed to redress past discrimination against women and minority groups through measures to improve their economic and educational opportunities.

African American: 1. Refers to Black individuals living in the United States with African ancestry. 2. An ethnic group in the United States of America whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to West and sub-Saharan Africa. Many African Americans also have European and/or Native American ancestors.

Ageism: Discrimination of individuals based on their age, i.e. of the elderly based on the notion that they are incapable of performing certain functions such as driving, or of the young based on the notion that they are immature and therefore incapable of performing certain tasks.

Ally: An individual that supports the struggles of a group; not part of the group him/herself.

Antisemitism(or Anti-Semitism): “Semitic” originally referred to a family of languages that included Hebrew. But it came to be applied directly to hatred of the Jews. Antisemitism is the systematic discrimination against denigration, or oppression of Jews, Judaism, and the cultural, intellectual, and religious heritage of the Jewish people.

Arab American: (adj) Refers to Americans of Arab ancestry and constitute an ethnicity made up of several waves of immigrants from 22 Arab countries, stretching from Morocco in the west to Oman in the east. Arab Americans are also Middle Eastern and North African Americans, i.e. terms that do not equate ethnic heritage with nationality but rather a geographic area. Although a highly diverse ethnic group, Arab Americans descend from a heritage that represents common linguistic, cultural, and political traditions.

Asian American: (n) Refers to individuals living in the United States with Asian ancestry.


Bias: An inclination or preference either for or against an individual or group that interferes with impartial judgment.

Bigotry: An unreasonable or irrational attachment to negative stereotypes and prejudices.

Bisexual: A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex, as well as members of the opposite sex.


Class: 1. Relative social rank in terms of income, wealth, status, and/or power. 2. Category or division based on economic status; members of a class are theoretically assumed to possess similar cultural, political and economic characteristics and principles.

Classism: The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their socio-economic class; and an economic system which creates excessive inequality and causes basic human needs to go unmet.

Collusion: Thinking and acting in ways which support the system of racism. White people can actively collude by joining groups which advocate white supremacy. All people can collude by telling racist jokes, discriminating against a Person of Color, or remaining silent when observing a racist incident or remark. We believe that both Whites and People of Color can collude with racism through their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

Culture: Aspects of a social environment that are used to communicate values such as what is considered good and desirable, right and wrong, normal, different, appropriate, or attractive. The means through which society creates context from which individuals derive meaning and prescriptions for successful living within that culture (language and speech patterns, orientation toward time, standards of beauty holidays that are celebrated, images of a “normal family”).


Diaspora: A historical dispersion of a group of people deriving from similar origins, i.e. the African Diaspora includes African Americans, Africans, Caribbeans, Afro-Russians, Black Brazilians, Afro-Latinos etc.

Disability: An individual is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental condition that limits the ability to perform a major life activity such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, thinking, or working.

Disadvantaged: 1. A historically oppressed group having less than sufficient resources to fund all of basic needs; without expendable income. 2. A group characterized by disproportionate economic, social, and political disadvantages.

Discrimination: (Prejudice + Power) An action against other people on the grounds of their group membership, particularly the refusal to grant such people opportunities, access, or resources that would be granted to similarly qualified members of one’s own group. There are many forms of discrimination including: racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism etc.

Diversity: A situation that includes representation of multiple (ideally all) groups within a prescribed environment, such as a university or a workplace. This word most commonly refers to differences between cultural groups, although it is also used to describe differences within cultural groups, e.g. diversity within the Asian American culture includes Korean Americans and Japanese Americans. An emphasis on accepting and respecting cultural differences by recognizing that no one culture is intrinsically superior to another underlies the current usage of the term.

Dominant culture: The cultural group that controls the major aspects of social power, values, and norms within a society.


Emigrant: One who leaves his/her country of origin to reside in a foreign country.

Essentialism: The practice of categorizing a group based on an artificial social construction that imparts an “essence” of that group, which homogenizes the group and effaces individuality and difference.

Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people 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, Navajo (Native American); Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican (Latino/a); Polish, Irish, and French (White).

Ethnocentrism: A practice of unconsciously or consciously privileging a certain ethnic group over others. This involves judging other groups by the values of one’s own group.

Eurocentrism: The practice of consciously or unconsciously privileging the culture of Europe over other cultures.

European American: An individual living in the United States with European ancestry.


Feminism: The valuing of women, and the belief in and advocacy for social, political, and economic equality and liberation for both women and men. Feminism questions and challenges patriarchal social values and structures that serve to enforce and maintain men’s dominance and women’s subordination.


Gay: Pertaining to male homosexuality.

Gender: System of sexual classification based on the social construction of the categories “men” and “women,” as opposed to sex which is based on biological and physical differences which form the categories “male” and “female.”

Gender identity: A person’s sense of being male or female.

Glass ceiling: Term for the maximum position and salary some claim minorities and women are allowed to reach without any chances of further promotion or advancement within an employment scenario.


Hate: Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury: extreme dislike or antipathy.

Hate Incident: Behavior which constitutes an expression of hostility against the person or property of another because of his/her difference. Such incidents include actions motivated by bias, but do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime.

Heterosexism: 1. Social structures and practices which serve to elevate and enforce heterosexuality while subordinating or suppressing other forms of sexuality. 2. societal, cultural, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that assume that heterosexuality is the only natural, normal, acceptable sexual orientation.

Heterosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex.

Heterosexual privilege: Those benefits and advantages heterosexuals or those perceived to be heterosexual, receive in a heterosexist culture.

Hispanic American: Pertaining to Americans with direct ancestry from Hispanic, or Spanish-speaking countries.

Homophobia: The irrational fear of people who are believed to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Homosexual: (Gay man/lesbian) A person primarily emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.

Horizontal hostility: The result of people of targeted groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant system of discrimination and oppression. Horizontal hostility can occur between members of the same group or between members of different, targeted groups.


Immigrant: A person who resides in a nation, country, or region other than that of his/her origin. Also known as non-native, outlander, alien, etc.

Indigenous: Originating from a culture with ancient ties to the land in which a group resides.

Ignorance: Lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified: resulting from or showing lack of knowledge.

Internalized domination: When members of the agent group accept their group’s socially superior status as normal and deserved.

Internalized oppression: The result of people of targeted groups believing, acting on, or enforcing the dominant system of beliefs about themselves and members of their own group.

Internalized subordination: When members of the target social group have adopted the agent group’s ideology and accept their subordinate status as deserved, natural and inevitable.

In the closet: May refer to a homosexual who has not yet accepted their own sexuality (to be in “the closet” with one’s self). Also may refer to one who chooses not to share their sexuality with friends, co-workers, or society (to be in “the closet” to everyone).

Institutional racism: The network of institutional structures policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for Whites, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantage for people from targeted racial groups. The advantages created for Whites are often invisible to them, or are considered “rights” available to everyone as opposed to “privileges” awarded to only some individuals and groups.


Jew(s): The term Jew is derived from Judea, one of the ancient kingdoms of the Hebrew people. Since the scattering of the Jewish people, after the destruction of Judea and Israel, the Jews have though of themselves as a people, a religion, a culture, joined together by a common history. Whether they assimilated or remained separate, Jews in medieval Europe were “the other” on the basis of their non-Christian religious practice and culture; in modern Europe they were “the other” on the basis of racial hierarchies (Aryan, Serb, and Semite).



Latino/a: Individual living in the United States originating from, or having a heritage relating to Latin America.

Lesbian: Female homosexual. A woman who is romantically and sexually attracted to other women.

Linguicism: Refers to discrimination based particularly on language. Language oppression is often tied to discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and/or class.


Minority: Term used to describe a group that represents a relatively smaller percentage of the overall population of a nation/state/ continent etc.

Multiculturalism: The practice of acknowledging and respecting the various cultures, religions, races, ethnicities, attitudes and opinions within an environment.


National Origin: System of classification based on nation from which a person originates, regardless of the nation in which he/she currently resides.

Native American: Refers to the descendants of the various indigenous populations that occupied the land now designated America.

Neocolonialization: Term for contemporary policies adopted by international and western “1st world” nations and organizations that exert regulation, power and control over poorer “3rd world” nations disguised as humanitarian help or aid. These policies are distinct from but related to the “original” period of colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas by European nations.


Oppression: A systemic social phenomenon based on the perceived and real differences among social groups that involve ideological domination, institutional control and the promulgation of the oppressor’s ideology, logic system, and culture to the oppressed group. The result is the exploitation of one social group by another for the benefit of the oppressor group.

Oriental: Relating to or deriving from the language, traditions, or cultures of the peoples of Asian nations in the region designated as “the Orient,” or “the East,” by Europeans. This term is conspicuously Eurocentric as “the East” is constructed as being opposed to a fixed reference point, “the West,” or Western Europe.


Pan-Africanism: 1. Describes the theory relating to the desire to educate all peoples of the African Diaspora of their common plight and of the connections between them, e.g. a problem faced by one group affects the lives of other groups as well. 2. Theory relating to the desire to link all African countries across the continent through a common government, language, ideology, or belief.

Passive racism: Beliefs, attitudes, and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence or oppression. The conscious and unconscious maintenance of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that support the system of racism, racial prejudice and racial dominance.

People of color: A term used to describe all non-white racial or ethnic groups. Power: The ability to influence others, enforce one’s beliefs, or get what one wants.

Prejudice: Conscious or unconscious negative belief about another social group and its members without knowledge of or examination of the facts: bias.

Privilege: 1. Power and advantages benefiting a group derived from the historical oppression and exploitation of other groups. 2. unearned access to resources only readily available to some people as a result of their group membership.



Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as a physical appearance (particularly color) ancestral heritage, cultural affiliations, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.

Racism: The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). This subordination is supported by the actions of the individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

Religion: 1. An organized belief system based on certain tenets of faith. 2. A belief in a supreme supernatural force or god(s)


Scapegoating: The action of blaming an individual or group for something when, in reality, there is no one person or group responsible for the problem. It targets another person or group as responsible for problems in society because of that person’s group identity.

Sex: System of sexual classification based on biological and physical differences, such as primary and secondary sexual characteristics, forming the categories “male” and “female” as opposed to gender which is based on the social construction of the categories “men” and “women.”

Sexism: (Prejudice + Power) Conscious or unconscious action or institutional structure that subordinates a person because of gender. In our history, it has been women who have traditionally been subordinate.

Stereotype: A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. While often negative, stereotypes may also be complementary. Yet even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact and can feed into prejudice.

Social Constructionism: A perception of an individual, group, or idea that is “constructed” through cultural and social practice, but appears to be “natural,” or “the way things are.” For example, the idea that women “naturally” like to do housework is a social construction because this idea appears “natural” due to its historical repetition, rather than it being “true” in any essential sense.


Tolerance: Acceptance and open-mindedness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures; does not necessarily mean agreement with the differences.

Transgender person: A person whose self-identification challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality. Transgender people include transsexuals and others who do not conform to traditional understandings of labels like male and female or heterosexual and homosexual.

Transsexual: A person whose biological sex does not match their gender identity and who, through gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatments, seeks to change their physical body to match their gender identity. Transsexuals’ sexual orientation can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

Transvestite: Men and women who enjoy wearing the clothes and appearing as the other sex. Most are heterosexual. Some gay individuals enjoy dressing in “drag” and view it as liberating and sometimes humorous.




Violence: Intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force: vehement feeling or expression: exertion of force so as to injure or abuse.


White privilege: The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society which Whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society. Examples include the ability to be unaware of race, the ability to live and work among people of the same racial group as their own, the security of not being pulled over by the police for being a suspicious person, the expectation that they speak for themselves and not their entire race, the ability to have a job hire or promotion attributed to their skills and background and not affirmative action.


Xenophobia: A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples.