Words matter

The University of Utah celebrates the rich diversity of our staff, students, trainees, and faculty by striving to make our campus a welcoming, inclusive, and anti-racist environment. The ways in which we communicate with each other should always seek to honor the humanity of each person who crosses paths with our institution — where no one perspective is more worthy than another. In the content that we create, we have a responsibility to use language and images that are respectful to people of all cultures, backgrounds, identities, and experiences. University of Utah Marketing & Communications (UMC), Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), and U of U Health Marketing & Communications collaborated with experts from across the U to curate an Inclusive Style Guide that aims to provide thoughtful, practical guidance when speaking to or about:

  • Gender
  • Immigration, international, refugee status
  • LGBTQIA+
  • People with disabilities
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Socioeconomics

“In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and reflecting on the unjust mistreatment of so many in our country for so long, we wondered what we could do in our little corner of the world as communicators,” said Julie Kiefer, associate director of science communications at U of U Health. “One of the most powerful things we can do is give other people a voice. This guide is to help communicators do that with the dignity, respect and understanding that every single one of us deserves.”

Learning why certain terms are preferred or harmful is just as important as using the appropriate term itself. Pamela Bishop, director of marketing for EDI, pushed to make the Inclusive Style Guide bigger than its initial conception as a quick-reference guide of respectful terminology. Thus began a year-long process of analyzing similar tools from journalist associations, national organizations, and other institutions of higher education—particularly from the Cal State system that had the most comprehensive guide.

“I thought, ‘Let’s take this great idea and blow it out as large as we can,” said Bishop. “We wanted to provide an introduction to each diverse segment and bring in many of the experts that we have here at the U to help guide the content. We didn’t want this guide to be written solely from a communications perspective, so each subject matter expert weighed in to ensure we had the full context for each audience the guide addresses. “

Each section includes an introduction that puts issues into a historical context, offers writing and interview guidelines, provides definitions of common terms, and offers myriad resources for those who wish to learn more from different perspectives.

“This is meant to be treated as a starting point for a life-long journey of learning. An individual’s identity is complex and deeply personal—there are no simple black-and-white “correct” answers,” said Lisa Potter, research communications specialist at UMC. “We hope that by understanding the context of how language can be harmful or preferred, communicators can approach their sources with empathy and respect.”

The guide is a first step in what will be an ever-evolving document. Language around many groups is changing rapidly and, in some cases, there lacks consensus within communities regarding what is the most respectful language to use. But we need your help — the Inclusive Style Guide includes a form for anyone to provide feedback and suggestions to make this as useful as a resource as it can be.

Explore the Inclusive Style Guide here.

Media Contacts

Lisa Potterresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Office: 801-585-3093 Mobile: 949-533-7899