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In our communications, we strive to use inclusive language that acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities. Other than a few added examples, these suggestions for writing and talking about diverse groups of people are taken from the Guide to Inclusive Language, a U.S. government publication. When in doubt, always ask the subject what their preference is for descriptors such as pronouns, ability level, what they call their partner/spouse. When it is not feasible to ask the subject, the following guidelines apply.

ability and disability

If a person’s situation, medical condition, illness, or injury is relevant to the content, be as specific as possible and avoid inserting value judgments about their circumstance. For example:

  • Use has multiple sclerosis, not is afflicted with or suffers from. Avoid describing people as disabledhandicapped, or confined to a wheelchair.
  • Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around disability or mental illness, such as crazydumblameschizophrenic, or stupid.
  • Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around sensory disabilities, such as blind spot or tone deaf.


Avoid referring to someone’s age unless age is relevant to what you’re writing about. Use older person rather than senior or elderly.

gender and sexuality

Make content gender neutral wherever possible.

When writing about a hypothetical person or if you are unsure of the person’s pronouns, use they or them, or the student, instead of he/she. When they is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb. Example:

  • When asked what their favorite food is, Taylor said they enjoy pizza with anchovies. (Singular, gender-fluid pronoun “they” with plural verb “enjoy” rather than “she enjoys” or “they enjoys.”)

Use descriptors of gender identity or sexual orientation as modifiers, not as nouns. For example, say trans studentcisgender professor, or lesbian woman.

Use different sex instead of opposite sex.

Use spouse or partner instead of husband and wife; use parent instead of mother and father. Use your student instead of your daughter or your son.

Use trans instead of transgender.

Use trans woman/trans man instead of transsexual woman/transsexual man.

Use nonbinary as an umbrella term for individuals who do not identify as female or male.

LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+ are acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other forms such as LGBTQIA are also acceptable with the other letters in the acronym explained. I generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for allies (a person who is not LGBT but who actively supports the LGBT community), asexual (a person who does not experience sexual attraction) or both.

Note that sex, gender, and sexual orientation are not synonymous.

Other trans-related language to use:

  1. “sex assigned at birth” or “assigned male at birth”/“assigned female at birth” (not “born male/female,” “biologically male/female,” or “genetically male/female”)
  2. “chosen name,” “personal pronouns,” or “the name and pronouns someone uses for themselves” (not “preferred name” or “preferred pronouns”)
  3. “gender-inclusive” housing, restrooms, etc. (not “gender-neutral”)
  4. “gender-affirming surgery” (not “sex change” or “sex reassignment surgery”)

Use lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (or "LGB people"), rather than "sexual minorities."

Use gay man rather than "homosexual man."

Use same-sex sexuality rather than "homosexuality."

Use alumni when referring to a two or more graduates of more than one gender.

race, ethnicity, and religion

Don’t make assumptions; ask how people identify themselves, and be aware of complexities within racial, ethnic, and religious identities. Terms such as Latino/a, Latinx, and Hispanic are descriptors of ethnicity, not race—in fact, a person’s ethnic identity can include any race.

Rather than “minorities,” which can be inaccurate, use “historically underrepresented groups” or “people of color,” or use “ethnic minority,” “linguistic minority,” or “racial minority,” depending on the context.

Avoid using words, images, or situations that reinforce racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes. Avoid the term non-white, or other terms that treat whiteness as a default.

Capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense. Do not capitalize white. Use Black and white only when clearly relevant. When using brown as a racial descriptive, do not capitalize.

When referring to a person’s race or ethnicity, aim for specificity and use adjectives, not nouns. For example, refer to a Korean student rather than an Asian.

Capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.

The acronym BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Use sparingly.

Use Native American, not American Indian. If possible, ask the person you’re writing about if they prefer using a specific tribe or Native Nation when describing their identity.

Do not hyphenate biracial, multiracial, or dual heritage.

Do not hyphenate antisemitic. Use lowercase.

Latino(s), Latina(s), and Latine, and Latinx are all acceptable. Latine is used when referring to a group of people of multiple genders or for someone identifying as nonbinary, gender fluid, genderqueer, bigender, agender, and gender nonconforming. Latinx is a gender-neutral term used as a substitute for Latina or Latino. If possible, ask how people identify themselves. In instances where the subject's identifies as nonbinary, either Latine or Latinx may be used.

Use international students instead of foreign students.

Do not use hyphens when designating dual heritage: African American, Asian American, Mexican American. However, note these UMass Amherst exceptions:

  • Afro-American Studies
  • The W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

For more information on inclusive language, see: