Diversity/Inclusivity Style Guide

Updated June 30, 2023

As the country's most diverse and largest public four-year institution of higher learning, the California State University has a particular obligation in setting the example for inclusiveness.

Staff from a range of departments at the CSU Chancellor's Office have created a guide that attempts to address common questions that may arise when CO staff create or modify content that is about and/or speaks to particular groups of people.

We know that words matter, so this document will attempt to offer thoughtful, practical guidance in speaking to and about:

Each of these is a huge topic unto itself and the language around many of these groups is changing, in some cases very rapidly.

This guide is just a first step in what we know will be an ever-evolving document. Which is why we look to you—the employees of the Chancellor's Office who will use the style guide in your work—to offer direction, note important omissions, and ask questions.

Your input will ensure this document continually improves and accurately, fairly, and compassionately refers and speaks to our many and varied audiences. If you have any questions, please Ask the Editor.

Note: Because the CO Style Guide is predicated largely on the AP (Associated Press) Handbook, many entries reflect AP style, especially when there was no other guidance to be found.


Updated April 20, 2021

Gender is not synonymous with sex. According to the AP Stylebook, gender refers to a person's social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics.

Since not everyone falls in the category of "male/man" or "female/woman," in your writing, avoid references to both as inclusive of all people. Consider referring to a person or people or, if appropriate, including the term "non-binary" as a way to encompass all people.

Transgender is an adjective (so modifying man or woman—as in transgender man, transgender woman) that refers to someone whose biology at birth does not match their gender identity. AP allows the use of trans on second reference and in headlines. Do not use transgender as a noun or use the term transgendered.

Exception: In federal reporting, such as terms used by the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDs, federal enrollment and graduation rates, sex and gender ARE used interchangeably and this data refers to "men" and "women" (not male and female). The state of California is beginning to collect data on gender identity, and on Cal State Apply (the platform all students use to apply to the CSU, students are able to choose other options when self-identifying on their application).

Note: When interviewing individuals or otherwise referring to people, ask them how they want to be referenced (e.g., male, female, man, woman, transgender, gender fluid, nonbinary, etc.). Further, ask the individuals if there are pronouns they prefer to be used when they are being referenced (e.g., he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs). Ask, too, if there are any terms they do not want to be used in reference to them and in which cases that might apply.

  • Freshman: The Diversity Style Guide work group discussed whether to change the use of freshman and freshmen to first-year student or another term. Because freshman/freshmen is so widely understood, no recommendation was made to use another term. This change would also naturally influence the related terms sophomore, junior and senior.
  • Alumna/us: A woman who has graduated from a school takes the Latin term alumna. To reference a man, alumnus is used. For two or more women, the proper term is alumnae. If two people who are both men or a man and a woman are referenced, the correct term is alumni. There is no gender-neutral term and the work group did not adopt or recommend alumX/alumx or some other term to denote gender neutrality for an alumna/us or alumni/ae. Alum, while gender-neutral, is not preferred.
  • Gender and race/ethnicity: Also still under discussion by the work group are gender-neutral references for specific races and ethnicities. For example, we recently replaced Latino/a and Chicano/a with LatinxSee the section on race and ethnicity for more information.
  • Gender-neutral pronouns: Since there is no gender-neutral term in English for a single person, and using one is overly formal for most types of writing, you may wonder about when to use he or she (or both, or if you should alternate he and she). This is an important question because part of writing inclusively is balancing references to genders.

The AP Stylebook advises against "[presuming] maleness in constructing a sentence." If you can reword a sentence to avoid gender, that's ideal. If that's not possible, you may opt to use "they" or "their" to indicate that the gender of the individual referenced is either not known or the reference applies to any gender.

Consider using the suffix –person (e.g., chairperson instead of chairman; spokesperson instead of spokesman) in your writing to avoid presuming maleness. Ask the person whose title you're referencing what they prefer as well, if possible. Be aware, too, of words that use –ess and denote femaleness, such as stewardess or hostess. When possible, choose a gender-neutral alternate, such as flight attendant.

The singular "they": In March 2017, the Ass​ociated Press voted to accept the singular they (as well as them/their ) as a gender-neutral pronoun when he/she or her/him is not accurate or preferred.

If possible, try to reword a sentence to avoid using the singular they/their/them, since this usage is still unfamiliar to many, if not most, readers and can cause confusion. So rework the sentence if you can and use the person's name in place of a pronoun when you can.

Another exception to avoid using only men/women or male/female (a binary reference) would be in a reference where men/women or male/female are necessary for accuracy, as in the case of a study that included men and women.

Mx: Though the Oxford Dictionary accepts Mx as a gender-neutral alternative to Mr., Mrs. or Ms., the AP Stylebook doesn't use these courtesy titles so does not offer guidance on the use of Mx.

It is the work group's feeling that this is currently not commonly understood and its use would likely confuse readers. Recommendation: Avoid the use of Mrs., Mr., and/or Ms. altogether, and only use traditional titles when necessary.

Gender: Terms to Avoid 

  • Hermaphrodite (preferred term: intersex)
  • Normal/norm (to refer to people who are not transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary)
  • Sex change (preferred terms: sex reassignment, gender transition)
  • Sexual preference
  • Tranny
  • Transsexual
  • Transvestite (preferred term: cross-dresser)



Updated March 8, 2019

LGBTQIA is an abbreviation for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and/or questioning, asexual/aromantic/agender." The “A" in LGBTQIA may also refer to “ally" or “allied," meaning someone who does not identify as LGBTQIA but supports those who do.

In March 2019 the Chancellor's Office Editorial Style Guide was updated from LGBTQ to LGBTQIA (all capital letters with no spaces or periods) in line with increasing use of the latter abbreviation. This is our preferred use, as opposed to LGBT, GLBT or other abbreviations.

That said, if a source in your content prefers to be referred to or identified using another term or abbreviation, please abide by their preference.

On first reference, explain what LGBTQIA stands for and use the abbreviation on subsequent mentions. Every CSU campus has a Pride Center (though it may go by another name and they may have a preference in referring to the LGTBQIA community).

The word "queer" has historically been considered a slur, so you may want to avoid use of the word, limiting it to quotes, names of organizations, and instances when an individual indicates he/she/they would prefer it used in reference to themselves.

That said, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQIA community.

Queer can also be used in academic circles related to domain (e.g., "queer studies") and or a range of post-structuralist theories that deal with the construction or reconstruction of sexuality and/or gender identity known as "queer theory." Other variants, such as "quare theory," consider the intersection of identities, such as race. In your writing, avoid comparisons that reflect a heteronormative bias—in other words, heterosexual/cisgender as "normal" or the norm.

Note: When interviewing someone or otherwise referring to a source or subject in your writing, ask the individual how they prefer to be referred to (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, intersex, etc.) related to their gender and/or sexual identity. This may include identifications that are not common or specific. Ask, too, if there are any terms they ask not be used in reference to them and in what cases.


Note on the Use of "Transsexual" and "Transgender"

The GLAAD Media Reference Guide notes that "transgender" is preferred to "transsexual" and the latter should not be used. That said, Dr. Benny LeMaster, a former lecturer in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Communication Studies at Cal State Long Beach, notes that "transsexual is an acceptable term for folks who are transsexual. Some folks who seek to alter their body in some way may use transsexual and NOT transgender precisely because the politics that bar folks from altering their bodies on their terms. Transgender is the larger term while transsexual is the more local term for a smaller group of folks who fall under the larger transgender umbrella but who may not call themselves transgender." When in doubt, try to find out how someone prefers to be referenced.


Reminders for reporting on and writing about LGBTQIA individuals, communities or subjects:

  • If you're covering research or new data, don't refer to the findings as relevant to "the gay or LGBTQIA community" if the information only relates to, say, gay men.
  • Don't conflate sex and gender; they aren't the same thing.
  • When talking about marriage, make sure you're using the person's preferred term(s), whether partner, spouse, wife, husband or something else. Gay marriage and same-sex marriage are acceptable terms.
  • Pay close attention to how the person you're talking to narrates their own story and follow their lead and cues when you write. If the person uses terms you don't know, ask them to explain each so you're sure to use it correctly. If there is particular sensitivity on the part of a source and/or topic, build in time for a source(s) to review their quotes for accuracy.

Reasons to Ask—and Reasons to Refrain from Asking
When is it appropriate to ask a subject to disclose his/her/their sexual orientation for a story? Is it ever?

Reasons to ask:

  • If it adds context to the story. Are you interviewing the person specifically because s/he/they is a member of the LGBTQIA community? If so, ask to confirm and ask how s/he identifies or they identify.
  • If it is central to the story. Would it seem out of place if you didn't mention it? For example, if you're covering same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination laws, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it's relevant to include that the person is or could be directly affected by the events.
  • If it isn't central to the story, what is your motivation for asking? Are you trying to add diversity to your story or highlight how different populations might be affected differently?

Reasons to avoid asking or telling:

  • If it would cause harm to the subject.
  • If it's merely for prurient reasons or to sensationalize the story.
  • Would you include the information if the subject were heterosexual? If yes, include it for an LGBTQIA person. If not, think about why you want to include it; it must be relevant.

Pronoun Use for Transgen​der Sources

If a source shares a transgender or gender-nonconforming identity, it is best practice to ask for preferred pronouns. Be cautious that a person's pronouns may not correspond with the gender that may be associated with one's name or appearance. Also, do not assume transgender status or include it if it is not germane to the story.

Note that sex, gender and sexual orientation are not synonymous. Please refer to the Gender section of the Chancellor's Office Diversity Style Guide as well.

LGBTQIA: Terms to Avoid 

  • Closeted (preferred: not out)
  • Gay community (preferred: LGBTQIA community)
  • Homosexual (preferred: gay or lesbian)
  • Openly gay (preferred: out)
  • Queer (see discussion above)
  • Lesbian women (this is redundant; just say lesbian)
  • Lifestyle
  • MTF or FTM (use male to female/female to male transition unless an individual identifies themselves this way)
  • Sexual preference (preferred: sexual orientation)
  • Tranny
  • Trans (abbreviation for someone who is transgender; Transgender people identify as a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender woman was assigned to be male at birth; a transgender man was assigned to be female at birth.)
  • Transvestite (preferred: cross-dresser; cross-dressing does not necessarily indicate someone is gay or transgender)
  • For more terms, go to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide


People with Disabilities

When writing about anyone with a disability—whether physical, intellectual or psychological/emotional—always strive to adopt "people first" language. This means using words that put the person at the center of a description rather than a label, their status, or focusing on what the individual cannot do.

For example, you would refer to a "graduate student who has epilepsy" but not a "graduate student who's an epileptic." As with any other area of sensitivity like this, please ask the individual how they prefer to be referred to and use this language as much as possible. Be sure if you are interviewing someone with a disability, whether visible or not, that they are aware of how much detail and information you will be sharing about their disability and/or ask them to review the content before it is published.

If the disability is not part of the story and there isn't a need to include it, don't.

Don't refer to someone who does not have a disability as "able-bodied." You can simply say they do not have a disability (or, if necessary, use "non-disabled") when it's necessary to distinguish that someone doesn't have a disability. Avoid using the term "normal."

Avoid sensationalizing a disability by using phrases like, but not limited to, "afflicted with," "suffers from," or "victim of."

Use "accessible" when describing a space, location or event that is modified to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

People with disabilities are typically not suffering from a disease or illness, therefore they should not be referred to as "patients," unless under a healthcare setting.

To show inclusiveness and sensitivity to students, you may want to refer to them as "students who are receiving services," which may include physical or mental help, or "students with a verified disability." Every CSU campus has services for students with disabilities and a wide variety of accommodations can be made if needed.

People with Disabilities: Terms to Avoid 

  • Able-bodied or normal when referring to a person who does not have a disability
  • Afflicted with
  • Confined to a wheelchair: Describes a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment designed to liberate rather than confine.
  • Crazy, insane, nuts, psycho
  • Deaf and dumb/deaf-mute
  • Defect, birth defect, defective
  • Demented, senile
  • Disabled (preferred: people with disabilities or disabled people)
  • Epileptic fit: The term seizure is preferred when referring to the brief manifestation of symptoms common among those with epilepsy.
  • Loony, loony bin, lunatic
  • Mentally retarded: Always try to specify the type of disability being referenced. Otherwise, the terms mental disability, intellectual disability and developmental disability are acceptable.
  • Midget
  • Paraplegic: Avoid referring to an individual as a paraplegic. Instead, say the person has paraplegia.
  • Psychotic: Avoid using psychotic to describe a person; instead refer to a person as having a psychotic condition or psychosis.
  • Quadriplegic: Use people-first language, such as "a person with quadriplegia"
  • Schizophrenic: Use people-first language, stating that someone is "a person with schizophrenia" or "a person diagnosed with schizophrenia" rather than a schizophrenic or a schizophrenic person
  • Spastic, a spaz
  • Stricken with, suffers from, victim of
  • Vegetable
  • Wheelchair-bound (preferred: person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user)

    Source: National Center on Disability and Journalism


Race and Ethnicity

Updated June 30, 2023

Race and ethnicity are not the same. The U.S. Census Bureau defines race as a person's self-identification with one or more social groups, which can include White, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and/or Other Pacific Islander.

Federal statistical standards used by the Census and the National Center for Education Statistics, conceptualize a person's ethnicity into one of two categories: Hispanic(or Latino/a/x) or Not Hispanic (Latino/a/x). If a person is Hispanic/Latino, they can self-report/identify as any race.

Federal regulations from 2007 about racial and ethnic data require institutions of higher education to collect and report a single, mutually exclusive major racial/ethnic group for students in federal collections (e.g., IPEDS). A key feature of this is that students who identify as Hispanic are reported as Hispanic, even if they self-identify under one or more racial categories. For clarity and consistency, CSU-published systemwide race/ethnicity data tends to follow the federal standard.

The fastest-growing demographics in the U.S. are "Two or More Races," the Asian population, and the Hispanic population. By 2044, there is expected to be no race or ethnic group in the U.S. that represents a 50 percent or greater share of the population. In this style guide we attempt to provide basic guidance on style for:

  • African American / Black (the B in Black is capitalized; African American is not hyphenated)
  • Hispanic / Latino/a / Latinx and related terms
  • Asian American and Pacific Islanders and related terms (no hyphen)
  • Native American and related terms (no hyphen)
  • Caucasian / White (the W in white is now capitalized, following the June 2020 recommendation of the National Association of Black Journalists: "NABJ also recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, including White and Brown.")

Given the complexity and evolving nature of this topic, covering even the most common usage questions would make this section of the Diversity Style Guide unwieldy. That said, we want to continually update this section so it is as current, inclusive, and useful as possible. Please send questions and suggestions for additions and changes to Ask the Editor.

General Writing Guidelines

  • Avoid stereotypes.
  • Place the humanity and leadership of people of color at the center.
  • Ensure that headlines, images, captions, and graphics are fair and responsible in their depiction of people of color and coverage of issues.
  • Use a multiracial lens and consider all communities of color.
  • Use racial and ethnic identification when it is pertinent to a story and use it fairly, identifying white individuals if people of other races/ethnicities are identified.

Source: Race Forward

Note: Discussions currently happening in the federal government could affect the ways in which the CSU collects and reports on race and ethnicity. For more information, read about the proposed changes.

Quick Guidance

I. African American, Black

African American and Black are not synonymous. If you are including someone's race in the content you're creating, be sure it is necessary to mention it and ask the person how they prefer to be identified. A person may identify as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean, for instance, or Haitian American or Jamaican American.

The Associated Press made the decision to begin capitalizing the b in Black on June 19, 2020. (Previously, the Chancellor's Office followed the AP's style of not capitalizing the b.)

African American is not hyphenated. Never use the word colored or Negroas a descriptor. Afro American is an archaic descriptor and should not be used.

In the body of a piece, it is preferred to use Black people and not Blacks to refer to a group.

II. Asian, Asian American

When writing about someone or a group of this background, ask the person how they prefer to be referred to. Specifically, if it makes more sense to refer to a specific background—e.g., Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino—use that term rather than a collective noun.

Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA): This is the preferred term to use, versus Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), or Asian American Pacific Americans. The latter is not incorrect, but for consistency's sake, we recommend the preferred use.

South Asian: This collective term refers to people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Desi American is a term commonly used by people from India, but not by all South Asians. Check with the source/individual to confirm how they prefer to be identified and ensure that identifying their race/ethnicity is essential to the content you're creating.

III. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hawaiian Native, Native American, Native People, Indigenous People

The most inclusive and accurate term to use to refer to those who inhabited land that became the United States (or, previously, territories) is: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN).

You may also see the terms:

  • Native People(s)
  • First People(s)
  • First Nations
  • Tribal Peoples
  • Tribal Communities
  • Indigenous People(s)

    Always ask someone how they prefer to be identified, including Hawaiian Natives. The person may prefer that you refer to them by their tribally specific nation. If a tribal name is used, ask for a phonetic spelling of the name.

    American Indians and Alaska Natives/Hawaiian Natives have a distinct political and cultural identification constructed in and through treaties, executive orders and the Constitution. American Indian and Alaska Native/Hawaiian Natives' cultural identification is place-based, diverse, and informed by the practices of their culture (e.g., language, singing, dancing, ceremonies).

IV. Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, Latin@, Chicano/a

Federal policy defines Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

Respect the person's or organization's preference. If the preference is unknown, use Latinx. Preference takes precedence over consistency.

Latino is often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term Latinx

While it is common to see Hispanic and Latinx/Latino/a used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Hispanic generally refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx/Latino/a generally refer to people with origins in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most Hispanics also identify as Latinx/Latino/a and vice versa. Generally, people from Brazil or Haiti do not identify as Hispanic, but may identify as Latinx/Latino/a.

In California especially, the preferred term is increasingly Latinx, because it is inclusive of a geographic region. Avoid the term "Latin" unless it is a reference to "Latin America."

Latina(s) is appropriate for individuals who identify as a woman/women, unless the person/people prefer Latinx.

Chicano/a is a term that refers to Americans of Mexican ancestry.

Again, be sure to ask the individual/group how they prefer to be identified. The individual may prefer, for example, a gender-inclusive and neutral term like Latinx or Latin@, or a broader term, like Afro-Latino (the person may identify as both African or African American and Latino/a).

Also be aware of gender when using Latino and Chicano in your writing.

Latinidad and Latin@ are emerging terms that may be favored by younger generations. Currently, we don't recommend their use in most writing for the Chancellor's Office as they are not yet commonly understood by a wide audience.

Race and Ethnicity: Terms to Avoid 

Do not use the term "colored person/people." Use a broader term, like "people of color," which refers to any person who is not white, especially in the U.S. You may see this referenced as "POC." This acronym may be used, but only after the phrase it stands for (i.e., people of color) is shared on first use.

In general, no racial or ethnic slur should ever be included in what you write. You may consider an exception if your content is about this slur (as in a research study examining use of the word) or, possibly, if it is essential to your piece and is used in quotes. In this case, ensure that its use is absolutely necessary and that your source has approved the attribution of the slur(s) to them.

This Atlantic article is useful in identifying when it might be permissible to use an ethnic slur in your writing. If you're in doubt, please Ask the Editor. It's worth mentioning that the Department of Homeland Security considers the use of ethnic slurs a form of harassment on the basis of race and/or national origin in some circumstances.

Resources & Sources:

Students from Low-Income Backgrounds

The students served by the CSU include many who come from low-income backgrounds. Recent research led by the CSU makes clear that many students—at the CSU and well beyond—struggle not only to pay for their college education, but to provide for even basic needs like housing and food. That said, it's important not to equate being low-income with struggling for basic needs. They are not synonymous.

The ways in which we talk and write about students who are low-income should convey compassion, inclusion, and sensitivity. Writing about poverty and those who do not have the money they need is, of course, a sensitive matter and sometimes a source of shame and stigma for the student.

Participation in programs targeted to students who are low-income or whose parents are low-income (e.g. Pell-eligible or receiving Pell) are common proxies for "low-income." Proxies are used primarily because measures related to students' economic well-being are often unobserved in the higher education context, as parental income/wealth is highly confidential.

While these categorizations or proxies can be helpful in demonstrating context, they are only proxies and not equivalent to "low-income." For example, only U.S. citizens and green card-holders are Pell-eligible, so this would not refer to undocumented students. Additionally, undocumented students are eligible for Cal Grants, which are subject to other eligibility criteria, such as minimum GPAs.

There are several terms that are often used in the context of discussing students of low-income background. These include:

Socioeconomic status (SES): Tends to refer to a combination of factors related to a student's social class. In the context of students, this typically includes family income, parental education (e.g., first-generation status), and parental occupation.

Underrepresented: Underrepresented refers to racial and ethnic populations that are represented at disproportionately low levels in higher education. Historically means that this is a 10-year or longer trend at a given school.

Underrepresented minorities (URMs) are African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Latinos, who have historically comprised a minority of the U.S. population. The term is mostly used for reporting aggregate student data.

Underserved: Underserved students are defined as those who do not receive equitable resources as other students in the academic pipeline. Typically, these groups of students include low-income, racial/ethnic minorities ("people of color" or "students of color" is the preferred use, not "minorities"), and first-generation students, among others.

Races and ethnicities that are included: African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander.

"Historically underserved" students are defined as low-income students, those who are first in their families to attend college, and students of color. "First-generation students" refers to their parent's/parents' highest education level is high school diploma or less.

There is no standard definition of what "first-generation college student" means, but it can be used to refer to students who are "among the first in their family to go to college" (e.g., their parents did not attend college) and/or students who are "among the first in their family to graduate from college" (e.g., their parents' highest level of education is some college).

General Writing Guidelines

When Writing About and for Students from Low-Income Backgrounds

  • Choose "food security" over "food insecurity" (a deficit-focused approach). A student may be facing food security issues or concerns. "Hunger" is a symptom of very low food security, but "hunger" and "hungry" should be used carefully.
  • Choose "homelessness" over "housing insecurity" (not "housing instability"). Consider that both housing and food security issues fall on a spectrum, with homelessness being the most urgent, acute end of the housing security spectrum.
  • Dealing with a lack of money, food, and/or reliable housing is a source of shame for some, but not all, students. Approach the topic with sensitivity and ask exactly what the student feels comfortable sharing in any content that will be made public, including photographs. Encourage a framework that helps students understand they are not alone. Describe the issue as a national housing and financial aid crisis that pushes many students into these circumstances, rather than a personal problem or one that blames the student.
  • While the term "underserved" is commonly used to mean those who are low-income and historically underrepresented, you may want to consider using the term "under-resourced."
  • Be aware of encouraging any perception that students are "working the system" to get free food or other assistance.
  • Don't use "poor," "impoverished," "underprivileged," or "disadvantaged" to describe students who are low-income.
  • Listen carefully to how a student or another source tells their story and use similar or the same language. Watch for assumptions and biases in your writing about the reasons for their income status, stereotypes, etc.

Resources & Sources:

Dr. Denise Bevly, former director, Basic Needs Initiative, CSU Chancellor's Office

Dr. Jennifer Maguire, assistant professor, Humboldt State