Inclusive Language Guide

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.

Why do we have an Inclusive Language Guide?

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, and we do not have all the answers

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 The terms in this guide could soon be out of date.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.

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Socioeconomic Status

Students living on a limited income

Economic status is not an inherent part of a person.

Define and describe what is considered limited income, either in your writing or speech.

Why don’t we just say poor?

There are many arguments that suggest we should not sugarcoat this language and just say that people are “poor.” However the term “poor” can be taken offensively or seen as insensitive to some. If you choose to use the term “poor,” illustrate in your writing that you understand the opposing viewpoints toward this term.

Discussing student-reported income

Another option is to avoid the language of assigning students to high or low income categories and to allow your participants to state the range they personally feel they fall under. For example we might say: “According to respondents who reported income below $35K/below poverty.”

Last Updated

August 29, 2023

Quick Notes
  • DO NOT use socioeconomic status as an adjective to describe a person. For example,  “They’re a low-income student”.
  • DO NOTset up comparisons between “high” and “low” when talking about socioeconomic status.
  • DO NOT use “poor,” “impoverished,” “disadvantaged,” “destitute”
  • AVOID “low-income,” “low-wealth“
Students living without housing

Use person-first language when referring to the experience of homelessness.

Using “homeless” as an adjective can inadvertently suggest that “homelessness” is an inherent part of the person, rather than a condition they are experiencing.

APA Style Guide suggests: “When discussing people without a fixed, regular, or adequate nighttime residence, use specific language that addresses the quality or lack of housing or length of time without housing, not whether the people consider their residence a home.


Another commonly accepted term is “housing instability”. In a sentence you might say: “Students experiencing housing instability may...”  

Another term discussed is “food insecurity.” It’s important to consider the ways that housing instability and food insecurity can impact a student’s success in school.

Last Updated

August 30, 2023

Quick Notes
  • DO NOT use “the homeless” or “homeless person”