As you may imagine I have countless conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion on an almost daily basis. I encounter a wide range of experience, knowledge, and engagement with these topics across organizations and individual people. Frequently, I am reminded that one of the first steps in this work is establishing shared understandings of terminology we have come to take for granted. This brief column will not be able to cover all the concepts that show up in inclusive culture work, but hopefully this is a useful start for folks engaging in these spaces.

Equity is focused on addressing structure, systems, and historical legacies to ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources. Equity ensures things are fair for everyone, understanding that fair does not necessarily mean the same.

Inclusion is the act of ensuring people’s experiences within an organization are not impacted negatively as a result of their identity characteristics. It is cultivating a space of belonging, care, and respect.

Diversity is a word that simply recognizes the presence of difference in a group. Often we use it to reference whether or not there is representation of a wide range of identity categories in an organization. It’s important to note that individuals are not diverse – so avoid saying “diverse person” or “diverse candidate” when discussing the process of diversifying your institution.

When discussing diversity we also often use the terms “underrepresented,” or “minoritized.”

Underrepresented is an important one to understand. It does not simply mean a small number of a particular group. It is term rooted in context because it means there are not enough present in a particular space (e.g., organization, research study, media outlet) in comparison to the population. A relevant example would be racial demographics at UCF. In the United States a little over 18 percent of the population is identified as Hispanic (Census, 2020). In Florida that number is over 26 percent (Census, 2018). In Fall of 2021 almost 28 percent of UCF students identified as Hispanic/Latino. However, Hispanic/Latino/a/e faculty have hovered between 6 and 8 percent for more than a decade. This also likely reflects a continued lack of diversity in Ph.D. holders (due to structural and systemic exclusion) even though those statistics are changing every year. We are nowhere near parity when it comes to race and ethnicity in the professorate.

We have shifted to use the term minoritized instead of minority in many contexts in this last decade. When people talk about minorities they are often incorrect about the actual compositional representation of a group in a particular context. Additionally, the word implies that the group is “minor” – of less importance and status. While historically the systems in place in the U.S. that marginalize particular identities have often focused on groups that have smaller populations in total, that is not always true today. Minoritized uses language that explains the ways in which the dominant or powerful group has benefitted from systems that have placed people considered as “others” in the margins. Minoritized accurately depicts the action being done to groups and challenges the taken for granted power structures.

I hear pretty frequently that we should be expanding our conversations about diversity beyond race/ethnicity and gender identity. I agree – we need much better inclusion of neurodiversity, disability, and the intersections of marginalized identities. However, until we achieve equitable outcomes for minoritized folks we cannot stop centering racial equity and other immutable identify characteristics in the United States. We always need to consider context and representation when discussing diversity. I hope many will continue to unpack these concepts in all your working and learning environments.

In closing I would like to leave you with this important perspective from renowned equity and inclusion scholar, Dr. D-L Stewart:

Diversity asks, ‘Who is in the room?’

Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Has everyone’s ideas been heard?’

Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’

Diversity asks, ‘How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?’

Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?’

Justice challenges, ‘Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing view?’


This article was written by Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Director of Inclusive Culture. She can be contacted at Edited by Iulia Popescu.

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