Understanding the meaning and nuance of social justice language has the ability to add accuracy and power to important conversations, and allows for more teachable moments. The definitions below are reprinted from Harvard-Westlake School with permission.
Cultural Responsiveness: The application of a defined set of values, principles, skills, attitudes, policies and behaviors that enable individuals and groups to work effectively across cultures. Cultural responsiveness is a developmental process (and continuum) that evolves over time for both individuals and organizations. It is defined as having the capacity to: (1) value diversity; (2) conduct assessment of self; (3) manage the dynamics of difference; (4) acquire and apply cultural knowledge; and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities in which one lives and works.
Diversity: The presence, acceptance and appreciation of varied cultures. The concept of diversity embraces the wide range of human characteristics used to mark or identify individual and group identities. These characteristics include, but are not limited to, ethnicity, race, national origin, age, personality, sexual orientation, gender, class, religion, ability and linguistic preferences. Diversity is a term used as shorthand for visible and quantifiable statuses, but diversity of thought and ways of knowing, being, and doing are also understood as natural, valued and desired states, the presence of which benefit organizations, workplaces and society.
Equity: A condition that balances two dimensions: fairness and inclusion. As a function of fairness, equity implies ensuring that people have what they need to participate in school life and reach their full potential. Equitable treatment involves eliminating barriers that prevent the full participation of all individuals. As a function of inclusion, equity ensures that essential educational programs, services, activities, and technologies are accessible to all. Equity is not equality; it is the expression of justice, ethics, multi-partiality, and the absence of discrimination.
Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into groups based on characteristics such as a shared sense of group identity, values, culture, language, history, ancestry and geography.
Implicit bias: The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Everyone is susceptible to implicit biases.
Gender: Socially constructed categories of masculinity and manhood, femininity and womanhood that goes beyond one’s reproductive functions. Gender is distinct from one’s sexual orientation.
Inclusivity/Inclusiveness: Encompassing all; taking every individual’s experience and identity into account and creating conditions where all feel accepted, safe, empowered, supported and affirmed. An inclusive school or organization expands its sense of community to include all, cultivating belonging and giving all an equal voice. Inclusivity also promotes and enacts the sharing of power and recognition of interdependence, where authorizing individuals and community members share responsibility for expressing core values and maintaining respect for differences in the spirit of care and cooperation.
Microaggressions: Microaggressions are subtle words, cues and/or behaviors that insult, invalidate or exclude traditionally marginalized group members. The long-term effect of microaggressions can be a significant negative effect on one’s health.
Multiculturalism: The presence of many distinctive cultures and the manifestation of cultural components and derivatives (e.g. language, values, religion, race, communication styles, etc.) in a given setting. Multiculturalism promotes the understanding of, and respect for cultural differences, and celebrates them as source of community strength. Multiculturalism is also defined as a set of programs, policies and practices that enable and maximize the benefits of diversity in a school community or organization.
Privilege: Systemic favoring, enriching, valuing, validating and including of certain social identities over others. Individuals cannot “opt out” of systems of privilege; rather, these systems are inherent to the society in which we live.
Race: A social construct that divides people into groups based on factors such as physical appearance, ancestry, culture, history, etc.; a social, historical and political classification system.
Racism: A system of advantage based on race. This advantage occurs at the individual, cultural and institutional levels. Racism can also be defined as prejudice plus power.
Sexual orientation: A concept referring to a person’s sexual desire in relation to the sex/gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual or pansexual.
Social class (as in upper class, middle class, working class): Refers to people’s socio-economic status, based on factors such as wealth, occupation, education, income, etc.