Inclusive Excellence Communication Guide

Boise State is full of human diversity. We have students, staff, and faculty from all over the world and almost every state, a lot of non-traditional students, a large LGBTQIA+ community, Veterans, people from various religions and cultures, and people who speak a variety of different languages. Each student, staff, or faculty member has unique experiences with an individual contribution to our campus culture–and all deserve respect.

We avoid language that is insensitive to or discriminates against someone’s cultural heritage or differences, ability/disability, age, ethnicity and race, gender and sexual identity, genetic information, religion, national origin, and Veteran status. You don’t always need to include these parts about a person’s identity in what you write. You can include it if it adds value, or if they ask you to.

If you are writing or speaking to or about someone, always ask how they choose to be identified, if you can. Keep in mind that it is our goal to be naturally inclusive of everyone.

This guide will suggest some basic ways to start incorporating inclusion into your everyday writing, communicating, and professional life at Boise State. This is not a complete list, and it will be updated as terms and usage shift. If you see anything you feel should be changed or updated, email vpsa@boisestate.edu or communications@boisestate.edu.

Disability

If you’re writing about people with disabilities, if you can, ask how they’d like to be identified. Make the determination if it is necessary to mention disability. Keep in mind that disability is a natural part of the human condition. It can happen at any point in a person’s life.

  • A person isn’t defined by their disability. Try not to make them feel like that is the most important thing about them.
    • “A person who has a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” Or, “someone living with [disability or medical condition].” For example, “A person with epilepsy” not “an epileptic person.”
    • “A person who uses a wheelchair,” not “a wheelchair-bound person.”
  • Avoid words that have negative connotations towards people who have a mental or physical disability — words like handicapped, afflicted, stricken, suffers from, victim, retarded, invalid, crazy, insane, etc.
  • If someone has an almost complete or total loss of vision, refer to them as blind or visually impaired.
  • Use a capital “D” when writing about Deaf culture.
  • Use a lowercase “d” when writing about hearing loss.
  • Use d/Deaf when speaking about someone who identifies as deaf, but you don’t know whether they consider themselves within the Deaf community.
    • For example, “John, a d/Deaf student…”
  • It is best to say “hard of hearing” rather than “hearing impaired” or “hearing loss.”
  • It is best to use “congenital disability” instead of “birth defect.”
  • In your marketing, have something for participants to ask for accommodations. Say, “For accommodations, contact [your event coordinator’s name and email].”
  • If you are going to have strobe lighting at your events, please include an epilepsy warning in your event marketing and promotions.
  • Make sure web content meets Boise State accessibility standards.
  • It’s important to use captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions for all videos.

Age

Make the determination if it is necessary to mention age in what you are communicating.

  • It’s best to refer to people who are older as a “senior” or “older person” instead of “elderly.”
  • Refer to students as students, not “kids,” “boys,” or “girls.”

Gender, Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Relationships

If you can, ask people how they identify, and be prepared to answer how you identify. Make the determination if it is necessary to mention gender, sexual orientation, or relationships in what you are communicating.

  • Refer to a group as “students,” “employees,” or “people.” It is best to avoid saying, “men and women.”
  • It is best to use “woman” or “man” instead of a “male” or “female” (unless they have asked you to).
  • It is respectful to ask someone for their chosen name and pronouns. You can do this during introductions. You can tell someone your pronouns and ask for theirs.
  • In your writing, you can use they/their/them as singular, gender-neutral pronouns. You can also use “we” or “you.”
  • Never identify someone as belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community unless they have given you permission to do so.
  • It is best to use gay or lesbian, instead of homosexual (unless someone identifies this way).
  • It is best to use “sexual orientation” instead of “sexual preference.”
  • Say “different gender” instead of “opposite sex.”
  • Think of new ways to say words that have a gender bias. Use “first-year” not “freshman.” Use “juniors and seniors” not “upperclassmen.” Use “chair” or “chairperson” instead of “chairman.” Use “founder” instead of “founding father.” Use “salesperson” instead of “salesman.”
  • In general usage, it is best to say “parent” instead of “mother” or “father“ and “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband/wife” or “boyfriend/girlfriend.

Race, Culture, Nationality

If you can, ask the person how they like to be identified. Make the determination if it is necessary to mention race, culture, or nationality in what you are communicating. Be mindful of the way that stereotypes are portrayed in your communication. Be specific and recognize the significance of referring to umbrella terms.

  • Avoid categorizing people such as, “He is a South American” or “She is African.” Be specific. Is he from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Chile, or Brazil? Is she from South Africa, Egypt, Congo, or Ethiopia?
  • Avoid the term “third-world country.”
    It is best to say “people of color” instead of “colored people.”
  • Bi-racial: someone who has more than one racial background.
    • Mixed-race is another common term, but bi-racial is growing in popularity on campus and in society.
  • It best to avoid using the term “non-white” to refer to a person or group.
  • When referring to minorities, use the word “minoritized”, which reflects something was assigned to the population rather than something they are. For example: “traditionally underrepresented minoritized populations”.

Words to describe race/ethnicity

  • Latino/a/x: someone who is of Latin American descent.
    • Hispanic is also used to describe this race/ethnicity. Some people use Hispanic interchangeably, but some people find it offensive due to its Eurocentric origins.
    • Another term that is commonly used is Chicano/a/x.
    • Spanish is a language, but it also refers to people who are from Spain.
  • African American: someone who is an American of African descent.
  • Black: this term can be used to refer to people of African descent.
    • Not all Black people prefer the term African American and not all African Americans prefer the term Black. Generally, African American is less likely to cause offense.
    • Some people might prefer Afro European, Afro Latino, etc., over African American.
  • If someone, or a group, is Native American or Alaska Native, identify them from the specific tribe or nation that they belong to.
    • The tribes in Idaho are the Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Shoshone-Bannock. Keep in mind that students may be members of other Native American tribes from other parts of the country.
    • The term “indigenous” is commonly accepted to refer to a large group of Native Americans who may be of multiple tribes.
    • Use “the Indigenous people of Idaho,” not “Idaho’s Indigenous people.”
  • Asian American: someone who is of Asian origin.
    • Avoid using the term “oriental” as it might cause offense.
  • It is generally more accepted to say “White” instead of “caucasian.”

Veterans

  • If you can, ask Veterans how they’d like to be described. If you’re not a Veteran yourself, keep in mind how much your experiences may differ before communicating about the military.
  • “Veteran” is a term used to describe someone with military experience.
  • “Combat Veteran” refers to someone who served in combat.
  • Many Veterans may not feel that they deserve the title of “Veteran.” It is best to ask about military history instead of asking if someone is a Veteran.
  • Keep in mind that most student Veterans want to blend in with civilian life. They will share their military experiences with you if they want to, but please respect their privacy.
  • It is best to avoid the stereotype “all Veterans have PTSD” because that is not true.
    • Refrain from asking if a Veteran has PTSD, or if they have committed violent acts.
  • At Boise State, we capitalize the word “Veteran.”

Religion

Make the determination if it is necessary to mention religion in what you are communicating. If you can, ask people what religion they identify with. If someone belongs to a particular religion, it doesn’t mean that they share all of the same beliefs. Within one religion, there can be a lot of diversity of thought, belief, and practice.

  • It is best to avoid terms like “pagan” or “traditional.” Sometimes these terms might need to be used, but in general, they cast someone’s religion in a negative light.
  • Be as specific with faith as you can be. For example, the term “Christian” is a very vague term. Instead, we recommend that you use Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Non-denominational, and so forth, to describe a person’s religion or church. This applies to all religions with various different sects.
  • Someone who is Muslim is a follower of Islam.
    • “Muslim” is preferred to “Moslem.” “Qu’ran” is preferred to “Koran.”
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not the “Mormon Church.” Refer to them by their formal name.
    • Refer to members as “Latter-Day Saints.” The terms “Mormon” or “LDS” are not preferred.
  • Atheism isn’t a religion, it’s a lack of a belief in gods.