In educational research we use standardized terms when discussing students. Using common terminology when we speak about different groups shows that we speak the language of academia.
In education we use standardized terms when discussing students. Using common terminology when we speak about different groups shows that we speak the language of academia. However, these standardized terms often perpetuate inequity and most often “others” certain groups. When we use these terms in work that is intended to disrupt the status quo, we create a contradictory message between our words and our overall intentions. This guide will help us develop an inclusive, shared vocabulary, allowing our words to match the true intentions of our work.
Language is constantly changing. The terms in this guide could soon be out of date. Even though this guide is comprehensive, there are groups, identities, terms, and nuances we’ve most likely missed. We know this language will not resonate with everyone, and that we will make mistakes as we continue to learn.
We realize that not everyone will agree or identify with the terms we’ve used. These are terms we have chosen to create a shared language for our work around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Try to use years, rather than class names (e.g. freshman, sophomore, junior, etc.) whenever discussing how long a student has been in school.
According to Penn State, “The word “freshman” does not adequately describe new students on campus. “First year” is a much more encompassing and flexible term. “Freshman” refers to the traditional, fresh-out-of-high-school student. While the word does not necessarily have a bad connotation, it is not truly representative of the population, which is a variety of students, including nontraditional, international, transfer, and traditional students beginning their first year on the college campus.”
Careful: Some students take longer than the “expected” four years. Often those students were not prepared for the first year due to inequitites in the K-12 system. Calling out the 5-year distinction creates connotations of failure but no matter how long it takes, that should be seen as a success.
August 30, 2023
Given the Latin usage defaults to the male plural and maintains the original traditions of educational intitutions only admitting male students, avoid this by using “graduate” and “graduates.”
Some use the alterative, non-gendered "alum" and "alums" in more informal writing.
August 30, 2023