Inclusive and Diversity Language Awareness

CNM’s commitment to providing a welcoming environment to all students extends to the language we use when addressing them.

With our diverse student and prospective student populations, it is necessary to consider inclusive language that builds unity across the College.

Below, we have compiled recommended language to use in cases where inclusivity can make a difference in creating positive connections.

These guidelines were created for written communications but having a mindful awareness of how we use inclusive language in all our interactions will help us achieve our end goal of valuing diversity.

Become Aware of Implicit Bias

An implicit bias is any unconsciously-held set of associations about a social group. Implicit biases can result in the attribution of particular qualities to all individuals from that group, also known as stereotyping. Implicit biases are the product of learned associations and social conditioning. 

  • Remember that every person is their own individual and therefore these guidelines may not apply to every person. It is important to take personal preference into account. Strive to include language that reflects peoples’ choice and style in how they talk about themselves. Ask the person what their identity is and follow their preferences.
    • Example: Someone with a visual disability may prefer “blind,” while another may prefer “person with limited vision.” 
  • Differences of any kind should only be mentioned when relevant.
    • Marital status, age, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity or the fact that a person has a disability should not be mentioned gratuitously.
  • Use the appropriate level of specificity.
    • Not specific: using the word “man” to refer to the human race.
    • Specific: “humanity” or “men and women” as appropriate to context.
  • Be sensitive to labels.
    • Avoid using labels whenever possible. If you must use a label, ask the person you are referring to what they prefer to be called.
    • For example, rather than American Indian or Native American, many groups prefer to be referred to by their tribal name, for instance, “…, members of the Cherokee tribe.”
  • Always put the person first.
    • For example, “a person who uses a wheelchair” or “Joe, who has multiple sclerosis…”


Ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. For older people, ageism can mean being overlooked for employment, restricted from social services and stereotyped in the media. Ageism marginalizes and excludes older people in their communities.

Conversely, adultism is a system of beliefs, attitudes, and actions that devalue and dehumanize young people, denigrates youth experiences, and dismisses their ideas.

  • Avoid referring to someone’s age, unless it’s relevant to your point (for example, when referring to benefits that are available to people of certain ages).

Ability and Disability

Every person is a whole person — no matter how they interact with the world. For people with disabilities, focus on what they need to do, what tools they use, and avoid making assumptions.

If a person’s situation, medical condition, illness, or injury is relevant 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).

Just like with language around race, gender, or other identities, it’s always best to ask people how they identify rather than assuming.

  • Avoid describing people as disabled, handicapped, or confined to a wheelchair.
  • Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around disability or mental illness: crazy, dumb, lame, insane, psycho, schizophrenic, or stupid.
  • Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around sensory disabilities: blind spot or tone deaf.

Gender Identity

Society at large has been programmed to think of gender in binary terms: male, female. However, a segment of our population does not think of themselves in this way because gender is distinct from the sex assigned at birth.

To be inclusive means to be sensitive to how individuals identify themselves and use the correct pronouns based on the individual’s preference. If you are not sure what pronouns the individual uses, simply ask them.

They, them and theirs are considered singular pronouns by both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press. The use of they, them, and theirs, is a neutral approach to gender inclusive language in contrast to he, him and his, and she, her and hers.

Consider the following:

  • Say “different sex” rather than “opposite sex.”
  • Use “they/them” rather than “he/she.”
  • Use “theirs” instead of “his/hers.”
  • The word “spouse” or “partner” neutrally refers to either “husband” or “wife.”
  • “Parent” is a neutral substitute for “mother” or “father.”
  • Avoid using “guys” to refer to a group of mixed-gender groups of people.

Increase Your Understanding About Gender Identity

  • Gender is distinct from sex assigned at birth, which may be designated with categories such as female, male, or intersex.
  • Gender, distinct from both sex and sexuality, is a socially created and regularly reinforced cultural construct.
  • Sex is distinct from sexuality, which is about desire: to whom one is attracted emotionally and/or physically.
  • Gender identity: an individual’s feeling about, relationship with, and understanding of gender as it pertains to their sense of self. An individual’s gender identity may or may not be related to the sex that individual was assigned at birth.
  • Gender expression: external presentation of one’s gender identity, often through behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice, which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
  • Gender binary: a conceptual framework that defines gender as consisting solely of two categories (termed “woman” and “man”) that are biologically based (“female” and “male”) and unchangeable, and that denies the existence of other non-binary variations of gender or anatomy.
  • Cisgender: of or relating to a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Transgender: of or relating to a person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. This umbrella term may refer to someone whose gender identity is woman or man, or to someone whose gender identity is non-binary (see below).
  • Non-binary: of or relating to a person who does not identify, or identify solely, as either a woman or a man. More specific non-binary identifiers include but are not limited to terms such as agender and gender fluid (see below).
  • Gender fluid: of or relating to individuals whose identity shifts among genders. This term overlaps with terms such as genderqueer and bigender, implying movement among gender identities and/or presentations.
  • Agender: of or relating to a person who does not identify with any gender, or who identifies as neutral or genderless.

Race, Nationality, Ethnicity, Religion

When referring to race and ethnicity it is important to note the difference between the two terms. Race is defined as a socially constructed identity which refers to a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished by physical characteristics such as color of skin, shape of eyes, hair texture or facial features.

An individual’s ethnic origin refers to the culture individuals identify with and derive a common heritage or ancestry, or a shared historical past.

  • Be sensitive to the complexities within racial, ethnic, and religious identities as many nationalities and ethnicities include various religious practices and traditions.
  • Be careful when using the terms citizen or American. Generally speaking, citizens should not be used as synonymous with Americans, the American public or as a generic term for people who live in the United States—as our population includes many non-citizens and individuals with a wide range of immigration and visa statuses.
  • U.S. citizen/citizenship would be relevant if such specificity is required for context such as listing certain requirements or eligibility
  • While referring to the public will mainly depend on context, terms such as people, the public and users would be optimal choices.
  • Use labels only if it’s absolutely necessary and relevant to the content. If you must use a label, consider first asking the person in reference to how they identify.
  • Use adjectives instead of nouns whenever possible when describing a group. For example, an Hispanic person, vs. an Hispanic.
  • Avoid generalizations based in race or ethnicity. Do not assume that a person's appearance defines their nationality or cultural background.
  • When referring to specific identity-based groups in terms of race, age, religion and ethnicity. It is important to clarify what research has actually found, rather than relying on generics, which can be misleading. Avoid making assumptions that can lead to marginalization, offense, misrepresentation, or the perpetuation of stereotypes (even if such stereotypes appear to be positive).
  • Capitalize the names of nationalities, peoples, races and tribes, e.g., Indigenous Peoples, Cree, Métis, Inuit, Arab, Caucasian, Jew, Latin, Asian, Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox…
  • The term "minority" when referring to an ethnic or racial group often implies inferior social position. The term “visible minority‟ is increasingly becoming unacceptable when referring to individuals who are non-Caucasian (outside of the context of Employment Equity policies in Canada). Use the term “racialized person/peoples”, “member of a racialized group” or “racialized group” when referring to individuals who are non-Caucasian.