I believe in the power of language
I’m no lexophile, but I know that language is foundational to our human experience and ability to coexist. Language is more than that, too. I try to use simple, thoughtful language because simple words are powerful. They can bring people together, inspire courage, and build one another up. Words and language also change. They evolve. And we should too.
I’ll be the first to say that it is hard to keep up with language’s evolution. I’ve had moments where I’ve used the wrong words, and someone pulled me aside to provide clarity, and even though those moments stung, they also provided me with an opportunity to learn and have a better understanding of how communities are impacted by the language we use.
The reality is that the language we use to talk to (and how we refer to) one another has an impact on how we treat each other. That ultimately contributes to a community’s well-being.
As I said, our understanding of DEI is evolving as the language around it does. That’s why I’d like to share a few of my recent learnings in the hope that we can grow together:
DEI and JEDI
DEI stands for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The recently added “J” stands for Justice. And its position at the front of the JEDI acronym is vital. That’s because leading with justice orients us toward action. DEI is all about what we can do now to make a difference. JEDI allows us to acknowledge and learn from the past and incorporate those learnings into today’s practices that make the future better.
Equity and Equality
It’s important to touch on why JEDI uses the word equity instead of equality. Equality means that each individual or group of people is given the same resources and opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and suggests that allocation requires the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach equality, which is why we can’t talk about equity without justice, and why we can't talk about justice without equity.
There is a clear difference between ”underrepresented,”, “historically excluded,” and “marginalized.”
While I use all these words, I’ve learned that when and how I use them makes a huge difference. When I’m looking at data, I may use the term underrepresented, as the term helps frame statistics thoughtfully around groups that may be left out of measurements. However, I also always pair the term with people-first language to balance data with lived experience.
This is something I’ve learned that helps me lead with justice and equity. Consider terms like historically excluded and how they change the overall sentiment: “Students from rural high schools are underrepresented in our incoming class. These students have been historically excluded as we plan our fall admissions travel.”
As a result of intersectionality, we need to be mindful that some groups have not been entirely excluded but may be a part of systemic marginalization, meaning their ways of life or cultures are often devalued, marginalized and not seen as the “norm” within an environment.
I’m inspired by this quote from Mauro Guillen: "Education in the future will need to help people learn and also help people unlearn.” Language is foundational to how students experience education. In a world where future learners will be more diverse, our higher ed system needs to continue evolving to meet the needs of all students.
As we educate the next generation of leaders, innovators and problem-solvers, we do this by creating environments that allow every student to feel understood and valued so that they can learn, thrive and leave the world better than they found it.