Sensitive Content

People With Disabilities

Do not focus on disability unless it is crucial to a story. Always put people first, not their disability. Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Show people with disabilities as active participants in society.

Ethnic Sensitivities

  • Always ask individual preference.
  • African American/black: It’s acceptable to use these interchangeably to describe black people in the United States. When referring to a specific individual, use the term he or she prefers.
  • American Indian/Native American: The two terms are synonymous. Some indigenous people in the United States prefer “American Indian” to “Native American.” It’s best to use individual preference, if known. When possible, use national affiliation rather than the generic “American Indian” or “Native American,” for example, Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee. To specify someone was born in the United States, but isn’t Native American, use native-born.
  • Asian, Asian American: Use “Asian” when referring to anyone from Asia, but use “Asian American” when specifically referring to those of Asian ancestry who are American citizens.
  • Mexican American, Hispanic, Latino/Latina: Use “Mexican” when referring to anyone of Mexican citizenship, and use “Mexican American” when referring to those of Mexican ancestry who are permanent residents or citizens of the United States. “Hispanic” and “Latino/Latina” are umbrella terms referring to a person whose ethnic origin is in a Spanish-speaking country, as well as residents or citizens of the United States with Latin American ancestry.

Adapted from the News Watch Diversity Style Guide.

Religious/Ethnic Holidays

To respect the wide variety of religions on our campus, use “holiday party” rather than “Christmas party” and “Winter Break” rather than “Christmas Break.”


Use the preferred references, i.e., fraternities and sororities. The term “Greeks” or “Greek organizations” is acceptable. Do not use the term “frats.”

Gender Sensitivities

  • Our recommendation is to take a little extra time to construct your sentences so you can avoid having to use gender-specific terms. For example, by using plural pronouns (“they,” “their”), you can avoid having to use the awkward but gender sensitive construction “he/she” or “his/her.”
  • Instead of “chairman,” use “chair.” Instead of “waiter/ waitress,” use “server.” Instead of “mailman,” use “postal carrier.” It’s also becoming more common to see the term “actor” used for men and women.

Here are a few more suggestions to avoid gender binary based language.

Instead of: Use:
alumnus/alumna alum, graduate
alumni/alumnae alumni (accepted)
chairman chair
businessman business executive, manager
coed female student
congressman representative, senator
emertita/emeritae emeritus/emeriti
fireman firefighter
foreman supervisor
founding fathers founders
freshmen first-year student, frosh
mailman carrier
to man to staff, to run, to operate
mankind people, humanity
manpower workforce, employees
policewoman police officer

Sexual Orientation

  • gay/lesbian: “Gay” is acceptable and preferable as a synonym for homosexuals, primarily males. “Lesbian” is preferred for women. When possible, use “gay and lesbian.” It’s best to use “gay” as an adjective, not a noun, for example, “gay man,” “gay people.” Where space is an issue, “gay” is acceptable to include both gays and lesbians.
  • gay lifestyle: Avoid this term. There is no one gay lifestyle, just as there’s no one heterosexual lifestyle.
  • gay relationships: Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people use various terms to describe their commitments. If possible, ask the individual what term he or she prefers. Otherwise, “partner” is generally acceptable.
  • homosexual: This is the medical/clinical term for lesbians and gays. (adj.) Of or relating to sexual and affectional attraction to a member of the same sex. (n.) A person who is attracted to members of the same sex. “Gay” or “lesbian” is the preferred term in all contexts, except clinical.
  • LGBTQA: Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally communities.

Adapted from the News Watch Diversity Style Guide.

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