The following is an extensive list of defintitions related to multicultural competency, diversity, and social justice. These are all terms you are likely to encounter in some form or another as you explore these topics. Be aware that due to the nature of these topics, it is possible you will read or learn about some of these terms defined in different ways.

ability status (n) - Term referring to whether or not someone has a disability, physical or mental.  While the terms “abled” and “disabled” are used to describe individuals, it is more acceptable to refer to someone “having a disability” or “not having a disability” rather than defining them by the disability.

ableism (n) – Discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities, especially physical disabilities.

advocate (n) – One who speaks, pleads, or argues for a cause; a supporter or defender.

African American (n) – An American of African and especially of black African descent

African-American (adj) – Relating to the culture of African Americans.

agent (n) - One who acts or has the power or authority to act. An agent possesses the ability to act autonomously; this is an important distinction because a simple act of obedience to a command does not qualify an entity as an agent.

agism/ageism (n) – Discrimination based on age, especially prejudice against the elderly. For example, referring to a person's age in a context in which age is not relevant and reinforcing U.S. society’s emphasis on youth as the optimum stage of life.

Alaska Native (n) – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America). S/he often maintains tribal affiliations and/or community attachments.

ally (n) – A member of a privileged group who takes a stand against oppression. For example, a white person who speaks out against racism, a straight person who works to end heterosexism/homophobia. An ally works to become part of social change rather than part of oppression.

American Indian (n) – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America). S/he often maintains tribal affiliations and/or community attachments.

androgynous (adj) 1. Relating to a person whose biological sex that is not readily apparent; this may be intentional or unintentional. 2. Relating to a person with an identity between the two traditional genders. 3. Relating to a person who rejects gender roles entirely. (related terms:  androgyne; androgyny)

anti-Semitism (n) Hatred toward Jews; prejudicial belief in the "racial" or religious inferiority of Jewish people.

Asian (n) – A person having origins or characteristics relating to any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. For example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Asian American (n) – An American of Asian descent.

Asian-American (adj) – Relating to the culture of Asian Americans.

assimilation (n) – The process through which a group gradually adopts the characteristics, customs, and attitudes of the prevailing culture.

bias (n) – An inclination of preference, especially one that interferes with impartial judgment.

bigendered/dual gendered (adj) – Possessing and expressing both a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona; comfortable in and enjoys presenting in both gender roles.

bigotry (n) – Prejudice carried to the extreme of overt hatred, often to the point of violence. (related term: bigot)

biracial (adj) - Refers to those with ancestors from exactly two races (similar terms include multiracial and mixed-race). One example might be a person with a white father and an African mother.

bisexual (n) – An individual attracted to members of the male and female sex.

black (adj) – Of or relating to those who have ancestral origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

butch (adj) – 1. Referring to masculine or macho dress and behavior, regardless of “sex” or “gender-identity.” 2. Relating to a sub-identity of lesbian or gay culture based on masculine or macho dress and behavior.

Caucasian (adj) – Of or being a major human racial classification traditionally distinguished by physical characteristics, such as very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair, and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India.  This term is no longer in scientific use as a racial classification.

Chicano/a (n) -A person of Mexican descent born in the United States. Chicana is the female form of the word; it often also has feminist connotations. The term Chicano is believed to be offensive by some assimilated Mexican-Americans, who prefer other terms such as Hispanic, or Latino or simply Mexican.

class (n) – Category of division based on economic status; members of a class are theoretically assumed to possess similar cultural, political, social, and economic characteristics and principles.

classism (n) – Prejudice or discrimination based on class; any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition.

climate (n) – Current attitudes, behaviors, characteristics and standards of employees, students, and community members concerning the access for, inclusion of, and level of respect for individual and group’s needs, abilities, and potential.

coming out (of the closet) (n) – An acceptance and/or acknowledgement to others that one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

competency (n) – A specific range of skill, knowledge, or ability.

cross dresser (n) – A person who dresses as the gender opposite to that which matches his/her biological sex.

cross-cultural (adj) – Interaction, communication, or comparison between people or entities from two or more different cultures or cultural areas.

cultural competence (n) – 1. The ability to function effectively in a society of culture variation.  2. A set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables the system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross–cultural situations.

cultural conditioning (n) – The unconscious process by which individuals are socialized to adopt the ways of thinking of the dominant group.

cultural diversity (n) – The embodiment of social processes and systems that are culturally inclusive and value difference in contrast to processes and systems that are exclusionary and promote cultural conformity and/or the assimilation of difference.

culture (n) – The collective behavior patterns, communication styles, beliefs, concepts, values, institutions, standards, and other factors unique to a community that are socially transmitted to individuals and to which individuals are expected to conform.

diaspora (n) – A term originating with the Jewish people that means a historical dispersion or scattering of a group of people deriving from similar origins. For example, the African Diaspora includes African Americans, Africans, Caribbeans, Afro-Russians, Black Brazilians, Afro Latinos, etc.

disability (n) – A disadvantage or deficiency, especially a physical or mental impairment, that interferes with or prevents normal achievement in a particular area. Disabled is the most currently appropriate term but other iterations include disAbled or disABLED.

disadvantaged (adj) – 1. Of or related to a historically oppressed group that has less than sufficient resources to fund all of its basic needs. 2. Of or related to a group characterized by disproportionate economic, social, and political disadvantages.

discrimination (n) – Treating people differently than others based upon their perceived group membership. Often includes illegal treatment of a person or group, or a biased decision (either intentional or unintentional) that may exclude or deny opportunity based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or veteran's status; use of institutional power to reinforce biased belief systems and to disadvantage others.

distributed justice: (n) – Justice that focuses on the distribution of limited goods and resources based upon the principles of equity, need, and/or equality.

diversity (n) – 1. Any collective mixture characterized by similarities and differences. It can refer to an individual, people, organizations, systems, etc. 2. Often used to describe a situation that includes representation of multiple social/cultural groups within an agreed upon context to enhance the experiences of all. Diversity is more than numerically-based composition and emphasizes acceptance and respect for all cultural differences by recognizing that no one culture is intrinsically superior to another. This definition envelops diversity in its broadest sense by not excluding any cultural background, lifestyle choice, tradition, or set of values.

domestic partner (n) – Unmarried partners who share living quarters; originally used primarily in connection with legal and insurance matters related to gay and lesbian couples.

drag queen/king (n) – A man or woman dressed as the opposite gender, usually for the purpose of performance or entertainment.  Many times overdone or outrageous and may present a “stereotyped image.”

emigrant (n) – One who leaves his/her country of origin to reside in a foreign country.

empathy (n) – The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

essentialism (n) – The belief that the artificial social constructions relating to a group are actually an "essence" of that group. This homogenizes the group and minimizes individuality and difference.

ethnic (adj) – Of or relating to people grouped according to a common race, nationality, tribe, religion, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

ethnicity (n) – A quality assigned to a specific group of people historically connected by a common national origin or language.

ethnocentrism (n) – A practice of unconsciously or consciously privileging certain ethnic groups over others; the emotional attitude that one’s own race, nation, or culture is superior to all others.

Eurocentrism (n) – The practice of consciously or unconsciously privileging the culture of Europe over other cultures.

European American (n) – An individual living in the United States with European ancestry.

European-American (adj) –  Relating to the culture of European Americans.

F to M / FTM / F2M (n) – Female to male transsexual; abbreviation usually used to specify the direction of sex or gender role change.

femme (adj) – 1. Feminine or effeminate dress and behavior, regardless of sex or gender-identity. 2. A sub-identity of lesbian and gay based on feminine or effeminate dress and behavior.

feminism (n) – 1. Movement advocating the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. 2. An organized activity on behalf of women’s rights, based on the belief that women are not in any way inferior to men.

First Nations (n) – A common term used in Canada to describe the various societies of indigenous peoples, who are not of Inuit or Métis descent. Like Native American (which is rarely used in Canada), First Nation provides an alternative to the term Indian.

gay (adj) – 1. Pertaining to a person whose sexual orientation is to persons of the same gender:  men who are attracted to men, and women who are attracted to women. 2. Pertaining specifically to male homosexuality.

gender (n) – 1. System of sexual classification based on the social construction of the categories “men” and “ women.” Gender is different from sex which is based on biological and physical differences which form the categories “male” and “female.”

gender assignment (n) – The cultural assignment of a person’s gender, usually at birth. In Western culture this is typically done by physicians by observation of the sex organs at birth.

gender attribution (n) – The way that the gender of another person is perceived, which affects the way individuals relate to that person, typically without thought.

gender bending (n) – Dressing or behaving in such a way as to question the traditional feminine or masculine qualities assigned to articles of clothing, jewelry, or mannerisms.

gender blending (n) – The crossing or challenging of traditional gender boundaries.

gender identity (n) – A person’s sense of being masculine or feminine, may be in contrast to biological sex.

gender roles (n) – Sex role behaviors that a culture assigns to a given gender, for example, jobs, economic roles, chores, hobbies, dress, parenting, etc.

glass ceiling (n) – 1. Term for the maximum position and salary some claim minorities and women are allowed to reach without any chances of further promotion or advancement within an employment scenario. 2. Barriers, either real or perceived, that affect the promotion or hiring of certain groups.

hermaphrodite (n) – An individual who is biologically intermediate between male and female. The term “Intersexual” is now commonly preferred.  There are different types of hermaphrodites. (a) A “true hermaphrodite” is a person with both ovarian and testicular tissue; i.e. a person with ambiguous gonads.  (b) A “pseudo-hermaphrodite” is a person with two ovaries or two testes, but ambiguous genitals.

heterosexism (n) – 1. Social structures and practices which serve to elevate and enforce heterosexuality while subordinating or suppressing other forms of sexuality 2. A belief that everyone is and should be heterosexual. This includes prejudiced attitudes or discriminatory practices against homosexuals.

heterosexual (adj) – Pertaining to individuals whose sexual orientation is to the opposite sex.

Hispanic (adj) – Of or relating to Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America. Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.

Hispanic American (n) An American with ancestry from Hispanic, Spanish-speaking countries.

Hispanic-American (adj) Relating to the culture of Hispanic Americans.

homophobia (n) – The irrational fear, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior, belief, or attitude that doesn’t conform to rigid sex-role stereotypes. The extreme behavior of homophobia is violence.

homosexual (n) – A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of the same sex. Some avoid using the word because it contains the base word sex, “orientation” has more to do with the issue of love than of sex, and it is believed that the use of “homosexual” devalues the orientation of the individuals.

identity (n) – 1. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality; 2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.

immigrant (n) – A person who resides permanently in a nation, country, or region other than that of his/her origin.

inclusiveness (n) – The act of encouraging belonging.

indigenous (adj) –  Having originated in, being produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment.

institutional racism (n) – A variety of systems, attitudes, behaviors, and practices operating within an organization that subordinate or exclude persons or groups because of their race or ethnicity.

internalized oppression (n) – Describes the process by which member(s) of an oppressed group may accept, believe, and live out the inaccurate myths and stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.

isms (n) –When beliefs and practices that oppress particular populations and advantage others become so embedded within various systems and institutions throughout our society that they occur almost automatically and often without being challenged.

intersexual (adj) – An individual who is biologically intermediate between male and female.  Formerly known as hermaphrodism, it is an umbrella term used for several conditions that result in individuals having partially or fully developed sex organs of both genders.

Jew (n) – A member through birth or conversion of a people based on a background of shared historical experience and of the religious heritage Judaism. Most North American Jews are descended from immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Jews can be understood in both ethnic and religious terms.

LGBTA (adj) – Of or relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, ally.

Latino/a (n) – Person living in the United States originating from, or having a heritage relating to, Latin America.

lesbian 1.(n) A woman whose sexual orientation is to persons of the same sex. 2. (adj) Pertaining to female homosexuality.

M to F / MTF / M2F (n) – Male to female transsexual; abbreviation usually used to specify the direction of sex or gender role change.

melting pot (n) – A place where immigrants of different ethnicity or culture form an integrated and homogenous society.

minority (n) – 1. Term used to describe a group that represents a relatively smaller percentage of the overall population of a nation, state, continent, etc. 2. A part of the population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.

multicultural (adj) – Of or relating to the co-existence of distinctively different cultures within a given context, such as community or nation; the practice of acknowledging and respecting the various cultures, religions, races, ethnicities, attitudes, and opinions within an environment. (related terms: multiculturalism (n))

multicultural competency (n) The acquisition of multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills, which requires the following: awareness of personal assumptions, biases, and values; understanding the worldviews of others; obtaining information about various cultural groups; and developing appropriate intervention strategies and techniques.

multiracial (adj) – Describes people whose ancestors are not of a single race (similar terms include biracial and mixed-race).

national origin (n) – Classification based on the nation from which a person originates, regardless of the nation in which he/she currently resides.

Native American (n) – A descendant of the various indigenous populations that occupied the land in the Western Hemisphere, especially that land now designated as the United States.

Native Hawaiian (n) – A person having origins in any of the indigenous populations of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race as “Native Hawaiian,” “Guamanian or Chamorro,” “Samoan,” and “Other Pacific Islander.”

neo-colonialization (n) – A policy in which a nation or area of more power exerts regulations, power, and control over nations or areas of less power. These policies are distinct from but related to the original period of colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas by European nations. It is often used to refer to policies adopted by international and western "1st world" nations and organizations that exert regulation, power, and control over poorer "3rd world" nations.

norm (n) - A principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior.

oppression (n) - Unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.

oriental (adj) – Relating to or deriving from the language, traditions, or cultures of the peoples of Asian nations in the region designated as "the Orient," or "the East," by Europeans, which includes Asia south and southeast of the Himalayas and the Malay Archipelago. In terms of describing people, “Asian” is generally preferred over “Oriental.”

outing (v) – Disclosing someone’s sexual orientation to another person or group, usually without permission.

Pacific Islander (n) – A person having origins in any of the indigenous populations of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

Pan-Africanism (n) – 1. Describes the theory relating to the desire to educate all peoples of the African diaspora of their common plight and of the connections between them e.g., a problem faced by one group affects the lives of other groups as well. 2. Theory relating to the alliance of all African countries across the continent through a common government, language, ideology, or belief.

People/persons of color (n) – People of non-European ancestry; all persons self-identifying by the general categories of black or African-American, Hispanic, Latino/a or Chicano/a, Asian or Pacific Islander; American Indian, or Alaskan Native.

pluralism (n) – A system that holds within it individuals or groups differing in a basic background experiences and cultures; it allows for the development of a common tradition, while preserving the right of each group to maintain its cultural heritage.

power (n) – 1. The ability to act or produce an effect. 2. A possessions of control, authority, or influence over others.

prejudice (n) – Refers to evaluations or affective reactions to groups. Includes judgments about others that reinforce superiority/inferiority belief systems; exaggerates value/worth of a particular group while diminishing worth for other group(s); is often reinforced through stereotypes.

privilege (n) – Power and advantages benefiting a social group derived from the historical oppression and exploitation of other groups.

procedural justice: (n)–Justice that focuses on influence during the decision-making process.

queer (adj) – Term originally used as a derogatory adjective against gays and lesbians. In recent decades it has become for some a positive umbrella term that refers to anyone or anything that transgresses society’s view of gender or sexuality, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The definitional indeterminacy of the word Queer, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics.

questioning (adj) – A term used to refer to an individual who is uncertain of her/his sexual orientation or identity.

race (n) As a biological concept, it defines groups of human beings based on a set of genetically transmitted characteristics i.e., physical characteristics including color. The concept of race as a socio-cultural concept is being replaced by the more appropriate concept of ethnicity.

racism (n) – A belief or an act of discrimination which presumes that race is the primary determinate of human traits and capabilities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. It denotes any attitude, behavior, or institutional structure that subordinates persons or groups because of their race or ethnic background.

religion (n) – 1. An organized belief system based on certain tenets of faith. 2. A belief in a supreme supernatural force or god(s).

self-esteem (n) – A confidence, pride, or satisfaction in one’s self; can be linked to family traditions, language, social customs, economic background, and other aspects of one's cultural environment.

sex (n) – System of sexual classification based on biological and physical differences, such as primary and secondary sexual characteristics, forming the categories of “male” and “female,” as opposed to gender which is based on the social construction of the categories "men" and "women."

sexism (n) – A system of beliefs or attitudes, which regulates and fosters stereotypes of social roles based on sex.

sexual orientation (n) – The focus of a person's amorous or erotic desires, fantasies, and feelings; including the gender(s) one is primarily attracted towards.  The alternative terms sexual preference and sexual inclination have similar meanings.  Clinicians and those who believe sexuality is more predetermined tend to use the term sexual orientation, while those believing sexuality is more fluid and reflects preferences and choice tend to use the terms sexual preference and sexual inclination.

social construction (n) – A perception of an individual, group, or idea that is created through cultural and social practice, but appears to be natural. For example, the idea that women naturally are better at housework is a social construction within many cultures.

social group (n) – A group in which people share some significant characteristics or identities. For example, an ethnic or religious group.

social identity (n) – Your understanding of who you are in relation to the environment in which you live.

social justice (n) – Commonly used to refer to the overall fairness of a society in its divisions and distributions of rewards and burdens. The phrase has been adopted by political parties with a redistributive agenda.

social justice allies: (n) – Members of dominant social groups (e.g., men, Whites, heterosexuals) who are working to end the system of oppression that gives them greater privilege and power based upon their social group membership.

status quo (n) – The dominant ideology and culture that maintains social inequality. It can be maintained consciously through active reinforcement as well as unconsciously through a lack of action.

stereotype (v) – Beliefs or expectations about characteristics associated with a group of people, often based on ethnicity, religion, race, age, sex, etc.

straight (adj) – A term originating in the LGBT community, used in reference to those who identify as heterosexual.

tolerance (n) – Recognition and permissiveness to different practices, attitudes, and cultures; does not necessarily mean agreement with the differences.  Many feel tolerance does not promote learning, growth, or transformation.

transgender/ed (adj) – Describes people who transgress society’s view of gender as fixed, unmoving, and following from one’s biological sex; can include transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag kings/queens, masculine women, feminine men, and those who defy societal expectations for their gender.

transsexual (n) – A person who identifies with a gender other than that of their biological sex; may seek to live as member of this sex especially by undergoing surgery or hormone therapy to obtain the necessary physical appearance, as by changing sex organs.

value/s (n) – An ideal, principle, or standard accepted by an individual or group, which can guide and mold behavior. Values have three characteristics: they are developed early in life from direct experiences with people who are important to us, particularly parents, thus, values are very resistant to change; they intrinsically define what is right and what is wrong; they themselves cannot be proved correct or incorrect, valid or invalid, right or wrong.  Values rise not out of what people tell us, but result from how they behave toward others and us.

valuing differences (v) – The systemic, organizational, and personal development work that focuses on all individuals feeling valued.

white (adj) – Of or relating to those who have origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as “White” or as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish, often used synonymously with Caucasian.

white privilege (n) – A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by persons of white or Caucasian descent beyond the common advantage of all others.

Definitions adapted from the following resources:

Broido, E. M. (2000). The development of social justice allies during college: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of College Student Development, 41, 3-18.

Magazine Publishers of America. (2005). Defining diversity: Glossary of diversity related terms. Retrieved September 14, 2005, from

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2005). Online Dictionary. Retrieved September 14, 2005, from

Ohio University. (n.d.). Diversity dictionary. Retrieved September 14, 2005, from

Tyler, T. R. & Smith, H. J. (1995). Social justice and social movements. Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series 1088, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.

University of Maryland. (2000). Diversity dictionary. Retrieved September 14, 2005, from