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Defining Our Terms

We want you to take part in conversations about diversity. Let's begin with some background on the terms we use.


The degree to which something is usable by as many people as possible. While often thought about in relation to the built environment (e.g., buildings), accessibility also includes products, devices, services, academics and more.


Norms, symbols, beliefs, values and history that are passed from one generation to the next and help shape behavior. 


The presence of difference. This is typically understood to mean who or what we think we see when we look around the room.


The process of ensuring that everyone has what they need to be successful. Equity takes into account historical context to understand why different communities have different needs, and how to best meet those needs. When someone says, “I believe in equity; I treat everyone the same,” they are missing a key part of this concept. Sometimes equal treatment is inequitable. For instance if we treat a veteran with a severe disability such as having both legs amputated exactly the same as other students in terms of providing access to buildings we have not created equity. If that veteran is required to attend a seminar on the second floor of a building with no elevator, we have not considered what would be truly equitable. Many examples are more subtle than this one, but they are no less important.


Characteristics — such as customs, ancestry, language, etc. — that a social group commonly identify with. Ethnicity is usually connected to a region of the world. 


A climate in which historically marginalized people feel valued, supported and encouraged to succeed. A truly inclusive environment goes beyond allowing diverse people to be present. They are encouraged to be full participants with access to decision-making processes affecting them. All stakeholders’ perspectives are listened to and considered with respect, and people from diverse backgrounds can influence the policies, practices and values espoused by the organization.


The overlap of various social identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, and class, that contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.


Unearned, unasked for, often invisible benefits or immunities experienced by certain social identities. Privilege doesn’t mean someone didn’t work hard; rather, that certain aspects of their identity did not — consciously or unconsciously — act as a barrier to success. 


A human-created categorization of people based upon phenotypical characteristics — skin color, hair texture, eye shape, etc. Race has commonly been used to define a group of people and as a basis for discrimination.

Social Justice

The process of developing a community that is safe, welcoming and supportive of people from all social identities — particularly those who have identities that have been excluded, marginalized or discriminated against. This community is marked by a sense that everyone’s voice adds value and new perspectives strengthen the whole.


Social identities who account for a greater proportion of the general population than they do on campus. These are groups who have been systematically excluded from pursuing education — such as people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, low-income students and first-generation students. Additionally, the term underrepresented may be used within specific domains or academic disciplines. For instance, women may be present in equal or greater numbers to men when we look at higher education as a whole, but they are underrepresented at the level of full Professor in most disciplines and they are underrepresented in specific disciplines like engineering at almost every level among both faculty and students.

West Virginia University is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture by promoting diversity, inclusion, equality, and intercultural and intercommunity outreach. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, age, physical or mental disability, marital or family status, pregnancy, veteran status, service in the uniformed services (as defined by state and federal law), religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or gender expression in the administration of any of its educational programs, activities, or with respect to admission or employment.

– Board of Governors Rule 1.6

Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

1085 Van Voorhis Road Suite 250
P.O. Box 6202, Morgantown WV 26506-6202

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