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Style Guide: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How to use the style guide 

The FHS EDI Style Guide is to be used by FHS learners, staff, and faculty to make communication with diverse audiences more equitable and inclusive. The guide provides advice on how to engage with issues concerning race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other intersecting identities. Here is a list of examples of how the guide can be used: 


  • Class presentations 
  • Writing assignments 
  • Email communication with peers and faculty 


  • Writing reports 
  • Developing website content 
  • Presentations 
  • Email communication with learners, staff, and faculty 


  • Reviewing course content and syllabi 
  • Delivering class lectures 
  • Writing reports 
  • Email communication with learners, staff, and faculty 


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The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Office developed the FHS EDI Style Guide in its effort to make FHS more equitable, inclusive, and just. Learners, staff, and faculty at FHS are encouraged to use this guide to avoid exclusion and stereotyping in any text or publication. The use of more inclusive language encourages a more empathetic approach to communication, and promotes vocabulary and terminology that respects and values the diversity of the Canadian and global community. Preferred terms evolve over time and vary based on context. A person’s or group’s preference of terms or language needs to be respected, as words matter.

Guiding standards

  1. Always ask for a group’s or individual’s preference regarding terminology and vocabulary. Never identify an individual’s identity without their permission.
  2. Only include information about a person’s identity if relevant to the content or context.
  3. Be respectful, non-hierarchical, and inclusive in all forms of communication. Consider that at any point in time, any written or visual communication could be read or seen by a public audience.
  4. Consider the impact of all aspects of communications including subject lines, titles, captions, graphics, and images.
  5. Be flexible. Inclusive language, vocabulary, and terminology evolve over time to reflect the current societal context. Stay up to date on current recommendations for inclusive communications.
  6. Adopt the Universal Design framework to benefit the widest possible range of people in the widest range of situations.

Race and Ethnicity

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Race is associated with physical characteristics such as skin colour and hair texture. As a “social construct,” society forms ideas of race-based on geographic, historical, political, economic, social, and cultural factors, as well as physical traits. None of these factors can reasonably be used to classify groups of people.

Ethnicity is associated with cultural expression and identification.

Racialization or racialized refers to a process in which an individual or group of people are defined by their “race” and ascribing racial meaning to someone’s identity.

BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People/Person of Colour. The use of the acronym BIPOC is meant to highlight the oppression and discrimination Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour face. Disclaimer: There are concerns that the use of the BIPOC acronym as a way to refine and define solidarity amongst the non-white racial and ethnic community suggests interchangeability between being Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour.

Latinx” or "Latine" are gender-neutral alternatives for the Latin American community. Disclaimer: Latinx or Latine are not universally adopted terms amongst the Latin American community and there are concerns that the term Latinx or Latine are insensitive to the Spanish language, in which all nouns carry a gender.


Where possible, use specific labels that identify a person’s or group’s nation or region of origin.

Capitalize the proper names of nationalities.

Capitalize “Black” when referring to an individual’s culture or race. “Black” is capitalized as it reflects a shared sense of identity and community.

Use “white” rather than “Caucasian.” Leave “white” lower case, as it does not refer to a shared culture.

Terms such as “multiracial,” “biracial,” “multi-ethnic,” and so on are lower case.

Ensure that headlines, images, captions, and graphics used in communications and messaging are depicting Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in a fair and responsible manner. For example, do not use a Black student’s or faculty member’s photo without their permission when trying to promote diversity.

When possible, try to use a multiracial and inclusive lens and consider all communities of colour. For example, ensure proper representation from all members of your department or unit.

Avoid singling out specific cultures or drawing undue attention to ethnic or racial background. When references are relevant and necessary, find the appropriate, accepted terminology and use the language the individual or group concerned prefers.


  • Terms such as “visible minority,” “ethnic person,” “coloured person/people”
  • Hyphens in multi-word names (e.g., Asian-Canadian)
  • Non-parallel designations (e.g., “African Americans and Asian Americans”)
  • Language that essentializes or portrays human groups monolithically (e.g., “the Black race”)
  • Use of racial or ethnic slurs. Even in an academic setting (e.g., lectures or publications)


Caliendo, S.M. and McIlwain, C.D. (2020). The Routledge Companion to Race and Ethnicity: Edition 2. London and New York: Routledge. CARED Collective. (2020). CARED Glossary

Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. (2021). The Diversity Style Guide

Daniel, K. (2020). Why BIPOC is an Inadequate Acronym. Chatelaine

Garcia, S.E. (2020). Where Did BIPOC Come From? The acronym, which stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color, is suddenly everywhere. Is it doing its job? The New York Times

Hatzipanagos, R. (2018). ‘Latinx’: An offense to the Spanish language or a nod to inclusion? The Washington Post

Laws, M. (2020) Why we capitalize ‘Black’ (and not ‘white’). Columbia Journalism Review

Indigenous Peoples

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“Peoples” is used to acknowledge the distinct Indigenous groups of Canada. When referring to Indigenous Peoples, people should always be pluralized and capitalized. 


  • An umbrella term for First Nations (status and non-status), Métis, and Inuit
  • The preferred term in international usage (e.g., UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)
  • Associated more with activism than government policy

First Nations:

  • Categorized by status and non-status:
    • Status: registered with the federal government and affiliated with a recognized First Nations community
    • Non-status: identify as First Nations, but: (1) are a member of a community not recognized by the federal government; (2) descended from parent(s) who lost status because of various circumstances (e.g., under the Indian Act, one could lose status by going to university, voting, becoming a professional such as a lawyer or doctor, etc.); (3) voluntarily gave up their status; or (4) do not qualify for First Nations status
  • There are more than 630 First Nations communities in Canada, with more than 70 Indigenous languages.
  • First Nations in Canada can be grouped according to the six main geographic areas of the country as it exists today. Within each of these six areas, First Nations had very similar cultures, largely shaped by a common environment. The six groups are Woodland First Nations, Iroquoian First Nations, Plains First Nations, Plateau First Nations, Pacific Coast First Nations, and First Nations of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins.
  • First Nations does not include Métis or Inuit Peoples.


  • Nation-specific term connected to Indigenous Peoples who originate from western Canada, but currently live across the country
  • Does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indigenous and European heritage, affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Powley
  • Distinct peoples of mixed ancestry who developed their own customs and identify as a group


  • Comprises circumpolar maritime people
  • “Inuit” means people in the Inuktitut language while Inuk means person
  • Use Inuk when describing a person (e.g., an Inuk doctor)
  • Should not be described as Arctic people, as Nunavik and Nunatsiavut are located south of 60 in the subarctic
  • Inuit are not to be confused with Innu, a First Nations people who reside in Eastern Quebec/Labrador

Land acknowledgement

A territorial land acknowledgement needs to be meaningful and respectful.

A non-Indigenous person or visiting Indigenous person may deliver a land acknowledgement, as it is a sign of respect to acknowledge the land on which they are being allowed or welcomed.  

Please refer to the Queen’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives’ Acknowledgement of Territory to prepare a land acknowledgment.


In all instances, capitalize “Indigenous,” “First Nations,” “Métis,” and “Inuit.”

When possible, use the specific names of groups, peoples, or communities. When referring to a group generally, use nation or peoples.

Use Indigenous sources such as community or council websites to assist in identifying the appropriate terminology for a group.


  • Native: typically, not used in a respectful manner and is embedded in historical context
  • Aboriginal: Many Indigenous Peoples are opposed to the term because of the connotation of the “ab” prefix (e.g., abnormal). The term was imposed on Indigenous Peoples when written into the Canadian Constitution in 1982.
  • Indian: an offensive term embedded in historical and legal context (e.g., Indian status, Indian Act), often used to govern Indigenous Peoples. The Indian Act was enacted to govern matters pertaining to status, bands, and reserves.
  • Eskimo: a Cree word that means “eater of raw meat”
  • “Canada’s Indigenous Peoples” and “our Indigenous Peoples” to describe Indigenous Peoples in this country, as these phrases can be interpreted to imply ownership or possession
  • Imposing Canadian nationality, for example, “Indigenous Canadians” or “Native Canadians”
  • “Reserve” or “reservation” unless specifically identifying a tract of land allocated to a First Nations community. The history of the term “reserve” is embedded in the Indian Act of 1876 in a section that refers to the tract of land set aside based on a treaty agreement established between the Crown and an Indigenous Band.
  • “Tribe” to describe First Nations groups
  • “Métis” as a broad term to refer to mixed-descent Indigenous individuals. There are many Indigenous Peoples who have some non-Indigenous ancestry but who still identify as Indigenous or are affiliated with an Indigenous community.
  • “Inuit Peoples,” as it is redundant
  • Using government sources (e.g., Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) to determine how to identify a community or peoples


Journalists for Human Rights. (2017). Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous People

Queen’s University Office of Indigenous Initiatives. (2021). Land Acknowledgement

University of British Columbia. (2018). Indigenous Peoples: Language Guidelines

Gender Identity and Expression

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Sex refers to a set of biological attributes. The term is associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy.

Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender-diverse people. It impacts how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources.

Gender identity is a component of gender that describes a person’s psychological sense of their gender and applies to all individuals. It is not confined to a binary (girl/woman, boy/man), nor is it static. It is not limited to transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.

Gender expression is how a person expresses or presents their gender, which can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, makeup, body language, and voice. Common ways of expressing gender are a person’s selected name and pronoun.  

Transgender people’s gender and/or gender expression differs from their assigned sex and/or the societal and cultural expectation of their assigned sex at birth: male, female, or intersex. Transgender is sometimes shortened to “trans” (e.g., “trans man,” “trans woman”).

Gender nonconforming refers to an individual’s behaviour and/or appearance not conforming to prevailing gender social and cultural behaviours.

Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.


Use an individual’s chosen name and pronouns when referring to them. For example, she/her/hers, he/him/his, and/or they/them/their.

Use inclusive, gender-neutral terms wherever possible. When communicating with larger audiences, use “people” or “students,” instead of “men and women” or “ladies and gentlemen.”

Most occupations/roles need not be gender-defined. Use:

  • Chair, not chairman/chairwoman
  • Police officer, not policeman/policewoman
  • Spokesperson, not spokesman/spokeswoman

Rephrase sentences that use the masculine pronoun as a generic pronoun.

  • Use: Instructors who want a back issue of the Queen’s Alumni Review should come to the communications office in Richardson Hall.
  • Not: If an instructor wants a back issue of the Queen’s Alumni Review, he should come to the communications office in Richardson Hall.

Titles/honorifics (Mr., Ms., Dr.) should be used consistently for all people mentioned in stories or articles. However, if there is objection to honorifics, respect the individual’s wishes and remove the title. Mx can be used as a gender-neutral title.

To avoid gender bias against women in science in any written or oral communication, use the Finkbeiner test (unless the woman explicitly requests to be identified as a woman in science). To pass the Finkbeiner test, a story/article/presentation cannot mention:

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child-care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to …”


  • Language that assumes a person’s gender. Instead, use “they/their/them” as gender-neutral singular pronouns.
  • Assumptions about gender within relationship roles (e.g., husband/wife or mother/father). Instead, use more inclusive terms such as “partner,” “spouse,” and “parents.”
  • “Guys” to refer to a mixed-gender group of people
  • Limiting gender to a male-female binary such as in the concept of “opposite sex” or “opposite gender.” Instead, use “a different gender.”


Airton, L. (2018). Gender: Your Guide — A Gender-Friendly Primer on What to Know, What to Say, and What to Do in the New Gender Culture. Toronto: Adams Media

Brainard, C. (2013). ‘The Finkbeiner Test:’ Seven rules to avoid gratuitous gender profiles of female scientists. Columbia Journalism Review

Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. (2021). The Diversity Style Guide

GLAAD. (2021). GLAAD Media Reference Guide

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2021). Gender identity and gender expression (brochure)

Queen’s University. (2021). Inclusive Language Guidelines

Purdue University. (2021). Gendered Pronouns & Singular “They”

Sexual Orientation

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2SLGBTQIA+ or LGBTQIA2S+ is a respectful and collective term to refer to the Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual community. The preferred term in the Canadian context is 2SLGBTQIA+.

“Queer” has historically been used as a slur, but has been reclaimed within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and is acceptable to use for individuals who identify with the term.


  • Coined in 1990 at a gathering of LGBTQ2 Indigenous peoples near Winnipeg with the purpose of creating a non-pejorative collective term
  • Acknowledges the gender and sexual diversity that exists and is exclusively used amongst Indigenous Peoples
  • Self-identified term that includes multiple understandings of gender and sexuality
  • There is no universal definition
  • 2S is the most common abbreviation


Be as specific as possible when referring to an individual’s sexual orientation. For example, a person who identifies as a woman (gender identity) who is attracted to women (sexual orientation) may self-identify as “lesbian.” Or someone who is attracted to men and women or people of any gender identity self-identify as “bisexual.” (The latter example sometimes can refer to “pan-sexuality.”)

However, when in doubt, use the umbrella term 2SLGBTQIA+.


  • LGBT, as it is considered outdated
  • Using the term “homosexual” or “homosexuality”
  • Using the term “sexual preference,” which suggests sexual orientation is a choice and not inherent


American Psychological Association. (2021). Sexual Orientation

Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. (2021). The Diversity Style Guide

GLAAD. (2021). GLAAD Media Reference Guide

Journalists for Human Rights. (2017). Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous People


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Disability: “Defining disability is a complex, evolving matter. The term ‘disability’ covers a broad range and degree of conditions. A disability may have been present at birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time (OHRC, 2008).” Please refer to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for a broader definition.


  • A person with complete or near-complete vision loss is referred to as blind or legally blind.
  • A person with partial vision loss is referred to as a person who is visually impaired, or a person with low vision or limited vision.


  • deaf (lower case “d”) is a medical term referring to people with little or no functional hearing.
  • Deaf (upper case “D”) is a sociological term that refers to individual(s) who are medically deaf or hard of hearing who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and language of the Deaf community. Based on sign language.
  • A person with total hearing loss is deaf.
  • A person with partial hearing loss is hard of hearing.


  • Refers to the idea that brains operate differently
  • Promotes the idea that there is not one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning
  • For example, “neurodiversity” can be used as a way of describing someone on the autism spectrum.


Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to a story or when the diagnosis comes from a reputable source (e.g., health-care professional).

When referring to an individual’s disability, always ask for their preference. Only make mention of the individual’s disability when relevant and necessary.

Capitalize a group name when stressing the fact that they are a cultural community (e.g., Deaf culture); however, when referring only to the disability itself, lower case should be used (e.g., a person who is deaf).

When it concerns those with disabilities, place an emphasis on “person” first:

  • A person living with a disability
  • A person with epilepsy
  • The emphasis on “person” first is not a universal term.  For example, some in the autism community prefer to be called “autistic person/people.”  As noted above, when referring to an individual’s disability always ask for their preference.


  • Using terms like handicap, cripple, victim, differently abled, diverse-ability, able-bodied
  • Labelling or defining people by their disabilities
  • Using unnecessary emotional tone (e.g., having a disability does not make someone a hero, a saint, a victim, a burden, or a soldier).
  • Calling non-disabled people “normal,” which implies that a person with a disability is abnormal


Canadian Association of the Deaf. (2021). Terminology

McColl, M.A. 2019. Should I say ‘disabled person’ or ‘person with a disability’? The Conversation

McColl, MA. (2019). Talking about disability. In MA McColl, Appreciative Disability Studies, Toronto, ON. Captus Press.

National Center on Disability and Journalism. (2018). NCDJ Style Guide

Ontario Human Rights Commission. 2008. What is a disability? The definition in the Human Rights Code

Mental Health

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People with mental health issues emphasizes a person-centred approach and acknowledges that a person is not defined by their psychiatric diagnosis.

People with a mental illness is a term referring to individuals who require medical treatment.


Mental illnesses can often be a taboo subject in our society. We must make a concerted effort to minimize the stigma associated with mental health issues with the language we use.

Mental health/illness is a broad term and does not reflect what an individual is dealing with. When possible, be specific or use the term “mental illnesses” or “mental health issues.”

A mental health diagnosis should not be considered negative, and there is a need to stay hopeful and empathetic. When describing certain individuals or populations, use concepts such as “living with a mental illness,” “person with a mental illness,” or “person living with a mental health issue.” Use “person first-” and person-centred language.

Ensure that when referring to mental health issues, diagnosis does not equate to someone’s identity. For example, state “they have schizophrenia,” rather than “they are schizophrenic.”

When possible, use descriptive language and set the context. Rather than “Mary is a schizophrenic,” use “Mary is a person with schizophrenia. Mary’s experience includes hearing voices. She also sometimes has fears that make her reluctant to join groups of people.”


  • Using mental illness as an aggregate term
  • Employing terms like “psychotic,” “disturbed,” and “crazy.” These terms cause hurt and shame.
  • Using the following phrases that sensationalize or stigmatize individuals: “afflicted by mental illness,” “suffers from mental illness,” “is a victim of mental illness,” “mentally ill person,” and “person who is mentally ill”
  • Defining something as “normal behaviour” or “abnormal behaviour,” as this language stigmatizes a person living with a mental illness. Instead, use concepts like “usual behaviour” or “typical behaviour.”
  • Assuming a link between mental illnesses and violence


Bulthuis, E. (2021). Mental Illnesses: Terms to use. Terms to avoid. Health Partners

Mental Health Association of Portland (2021). Language Matters When Writing About Mental Illness

Mental Health Foundation. (2021). Terminology

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2021). Human rights and mental health (fact sheet)


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Older adults is a subgroup of adults, and the age groups of older adults may be described with adjectives.

Ageism is discrimination against older people that results in negative and inaccurate stereotypes. Ageism is a combination of three elements: (1) prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; (2) discriminatory practices against older people; and (3) institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people.

Elder is a term commonly used amongst First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities. It refers to someone who has attained a high degree of understanding of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit history, traditional teachings, ceremonies, and healing practices.


Employ more neutral (older people or older adults) and inclusive (“we” and “us”) terms.

Talk affirmatively about changing demographics: “As Canadians live longer and healthier lives ….”

Provide a specific age range (e.g., older adults aged 70 to 80) when describing a population.


  • Using terms like aged, elderly, seniors, old, and aging dependents
  • Describing people as victims or using emotional terms that imply helplessness (e.g., “suffering from” or “stricken with”)
  • Using euphemistic terms (e.g., “physically challenged” or “special”)
  • Portraying aging as fatalistic
  • Using open-ended definitions (e.g., “under 18 years” or “over 65 years”)


American Psychological Association. (2021). Age

Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. (2021). The Diversity Style Guide

Lundebjerg, N.E., Trucil, D.E., Hammond, E.C., and Applegate, W.B. (2017). When it Comes to Older Adults, Language Matters: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Adopts Modified American Medical Association Style. JAGS, 65(7): 1386-1388.

Stielgelbauer, S.M. (1996). What is an Elder? What do Elders do? The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 16(1).

Low-income Backgrounds

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Socioeconomic status (SES) refers to: factors related to an individual’s or group’s social class, which typically includes family income, parental education (e.g., first-generation status), and parental occupation.

First-generation status refers to:

  • First-generation immigrants who were born outside Canada. Second generation includes individuals who were born in Canada and have at least one parent born outside Canada.
  • First-generation post-secondary students who come from a home where neither parent earned a post-secondary degree

Underserved: refers to individuals or groups who do not receive equitable access to resources. Alternatively, “under-resourced” can be used.


When reporting SES, provide detailed information about people’s income, education, and occupations or employment circumstances.

SES should also be described by providing information related to specific contextual and environmental conditions (e.g., a participant’s housing arrangement and neighbourhood characteristics).

When discussing people without a fixed, regular, or adequate or quality residence, use specific language such as “people experiencing homelessness,” or “people who are homeless.”

Historically, SES terms such as “low-income” and “poor” have been used as implicit descriptors for racial and/or ethnic minority peoples. Thus, it is important to use racial and/or ethnic descriptors within SES categories. For example, “the sample includes low-income and middle-income Mexican parents.”


  • “Poor,” “impoverished,” “underprivileged,” “poverty-stricken,” and “disadvantaged” to describe individuals or groups of low income
  • “Inner-city,” “ghetto,” and “the projects”
  • Making assumptions about an individual based on their SES


American Psychological Association. (2021). Socioeconomic Status

California State University. (2020). Diversity Style Guide

Smith, A. (2015). Who’s in First (Generation)? Insider Higher Ed  

Statistics Canada. (2018). Generation status: Canadian-born children of immigrants