This glossary of terms on diversity contains a selection of terms and concepts that are often used within the context of diversity and inclusion. The objective of this glossary is to develop a common language for the University of Antwerp with which to talk about diversity.

The University of Antwerp attaches major importance to diversity and at our university we use diversity-sensitive terminology.

This glossary is based on the ‘Glossary of Terms’ developed by YUFE WP7 Diversity & Inclusivity. The original document is available here.

This glossary is not exhaustive, and it is:

Specific to culture and context:

  • For example, while ‘race’ is a commonly used term in the United Kingdom, ras is hardly ever used in Belgium.

Specific to time:

  • For example, the term allochtoon (in this context, translated as ‘immigrant’) was still in common usage until not so long ago. Currently we prefer to use the term ‘person with a migration background’.

For the Dutch version of this glossary, we did not simply translate the YUFE ‘Glossary of Terms’ from English to Dutch. We also considered the culture, context and language usage that are currently customary for us. These elements are also reflected in this English version of the glossary. 

This glossary will continue to evolve. Any additions and comments are always welcome.

1. General terms

Active pluralism

The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviours that one does not appreciate or agree with. Active pluralism is not a philosophical conviction but an attitude towards one’s own and other people’s philosophical convictions. It insists on substantive dialogue within and among different philosophical convictions and on a real commitment to taking philosophical convictions seriously, both as a phenomenon and as a practice. Active pluralism encourages the active taking of a stand.


Someone who actively advocates for the lives and rights of members of under-represented or marginalised groups and communities, and who is aware of one’s own privileged position.


The process in which people examine and actively use their own privilege to support the voices of marginalised groups, thereby actively defending the interests of these groups to promote social justice and inclusion.

Anti-discriminatory attitude

Being aware of and actively opposing any form of discrimination to promote equality.

Background characteristics

A person’s background characteristics include prior education, place of residence, age, family composition and social-economic status, amongst others. It can be useful to retrieve or analyse these characteristics in some contexts (e.g. For research or monitoring purposes). In contrast to diversity characteristics, background characteristics provide information on individuals.


Inclination for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered unfair.

Conscious bias

Stereotypes and prejudices that we are aware of and act on intentionally.

Cultural intelligence

The capability to relate and work effectively across cultures.


The ideas, customs and social behaviour of particular groups of people.


The unequal treatment of members of various communities and groups based on ethnicity, social background, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion and other individual background characteristics.

Some forms of discrimination are prohibited by law, according to anti-discrimination legislation. Belgium recognises 19 protected grounds of discrimination.

Diverse group

A group whose members differ from each other according to both visible and invisible characteristics.


Diversity is variety. It entails an array of aspects according to which people can differ from each other and that are expressed in such characteristics as migration background, disability, social background, language spoken in the home, age, philosophical conviction and gender identity, as well as other dimensions (e.g. Values, opinions, self-image).

Diversity characteristics

Diversity characteristics distinguish individuals within a group from each other. Diversity characteristics cannot be discussed outside the context of a group, in contrast to background characteristics. A person is not diverse; a group is diverse. Diversity characteristics may include gender, ethnicity, social-economic status, sexual orientation and language, amongst others.

*please avoid the use of such terms as ‘disadvantaged people’ or ‘vulnerable people’.

Diversity sensitivity

Keeping diversity and inclusion in mind in the tasks we undertake, regardless of whether they are directly related to diversity. It involves adopting an attitude in which diversity is always part of any assessment of quality.


Being equal in status, rights or opportunities.


The principle that people are of equal value, regardless of their differences. It is the conviction that everyone deserves equal opportunities. In practice, it is manifested in making adjustments for specific target groups that are subject to inequality, with the objective of pursuing equality of opportunities.

Experiential expertise

Personal experience as a member of an under-represented or marginalised group.

Foreign language student

In higher education, students are considered ‘foreign language students’, if they speak a language other than dutch at home with all of their family members.

We nevertheless prefer the term ‘multi-lingual’, as ‘foreign language’ reinforces the us-versus-them perspective.

Gender mainstreaming

Integrating a gender equality perspective at all stages (from development to implementation) and all levels of policies, programmes and projects.

Gender-sensitive language

Avoiding the use of language that refers explicitly or implicitly to a specific gender and that helps perpetuate stereotypes.


The practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded to promote equal participation. Inclusion is an active term. It requires actively thinking about and proactively lowering or eliminating possible obstacles for all people.


​No group is excluded or treated unequally, either implicitly or explicitly. Everyone is able to participate equally (in equity).

Inclusive environment

An environment in which all members feel respected by and connected to one another. All members contribute equally.

Inclusive supervisors

Supervisors who are aware of their own biases and preferences. They actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making. They are aware of differing needs and possibilities, and they take them into account within the working environment.


The awareness that our social position is characterised by an intersection of various background characteristics (e.g. Culture, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation or physical ability). Depending on how the different identity characteristics intersect, we may simultaneously experience privileges and/or various forms of oppression. Taking intersectionality into account can also be referred to as ‘intersectional thinking’.

Marginalised group

A group that is given less influence and control due to the possession of specific background characteristics through structural mechanisms of exclusion.


The everyday (and possibly subtle) verbal or non-verbal, conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional statements that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target individuals based solely upon their membership in a given marginalised or under-represented group.


A multi-lingual person knows more than one language. In higher education, multi-lingual students are understood as those who, in addition to dutch, speak another language with at least one family member in the home environment;


Based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.


Accessible to all. Free from limitations, boundaries or restrictions. Open is not the same as ‘inclusive’. This is because the imposition of no restrictions does not mean that all individuals will be able to participate equally. The barriers that an individual faces are not always imposed.


A situation in which people are governed in an unfair and cruel way and have limited or no opportunities or freedoms.


The process of thinking about, talking about and treating individuals and groups of people who are already marginalised or under-represented as inferior to and different from the rest of society.


A social group with which an individual does not identify.

Pioneer student

A student with two parents who have not attained a degree in higher education.


A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.


A special right or advantage that is only available to a particular person or group.

Role model

Someone whose behaviour, example or success inspires and encourages others.

Social engagement

Refers to one’s degree of participation in a community or society.


A widely held but fixed and over-simplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.


An approach that addresses the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations or backgrounds of individual students and groups of students.

Unconscious (or implicit) bias

Learned stereotypes and prejudices that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal and able to influence behaviour.

Under-represented group

A subset of a population (e.g. People with a migration background) that holds a smaller percentage within a specific subgroup (e.g. Students) than the subset holds in society.

Universal design

An approach to the design and creation of a building, product, service or environment that ensures that it can be accessed, understood and used by everyone, regardless of age, disability or any other factors;

Zero tolerance

Commitment to rejecting, challenging and addressing all forms of discrimination.

2. LGBTQI+ terms​​

The definitions of LGBTQ+ terms in the Dutch version of this glossary are based largely on existing glossaries and definitions (available only in Dutch) from Cavaria, Rosa vzw and the Transgender Infopunt. Those appearing below have been adapted from the YUFE ‘Glossary of Terms’.


Those who identify as having no gender or being without a gender identity (see also non-binary). Agender people either have no perception of gender or experience an absence of gender. This is also referred to as ‘genderless’ or ‘non-gender’.


A sexual orientation indicating a person who does not (or does not often) experience sexual attraction to another person.


A sexual orientation indicating a person who does not (or does not often) experience sexual attraction to another person.


A sexual orientation indicating a person who experiences sexual attraction to two or more gender identities.


A term used to describe a person whose gender identity matches the gender assigned at birth (based on sexual characteristics).

Coming out

Derived from ‘coming out of the closet’, an expression used to refer to making personal information public. Although it is possible to make a wide range of personal information public, ‘coming out’ is usually used to refer to the process of voluntarily sharing one’s romantic orientation, sexual orientation or gender identity with others.


A social construct that contributes to determining a person’s position within society. Western societies have traditionally adopted a binary gender classification: the classic dichotomy between men and women. This classification is accompanied by certain expectations and roles. At present, this binary gender norm is being increasingly questioned, including in the western world, and gender is regarded as more of a spectrum.

Gender expression

The outward, visible expression of one’s gender through appearance, such as (but not limited to) clothing and make-up. It can also include a specific body posture, speech or manner of movement. One’s gender identity does not necessarily match one’s gender expression.

Gender fluid

A term used to describe a person whose gender identity shifts over time.

Gender identity/identities

Gender identity is the internal sense of gender that people experience. There are a variety of binary and non-binary gender identities. There are thus more gender identities than only male and female, including variations of both or neither.

Examples include bigender, gender fluid and non-binary. An individual’s gender identity is not necessarily fixed, and it can shift over time.


Gender-inclusive work aims to achieve the inclusion of all biological sexes, gender identities, gender expressions, gender roles and anyone who in any way transcends a binary paradigm.

Gender neutral

Relating to people, and not especially to women or men. This term is used only in reference to objects (e.g. Toys, clothing, utensils). This is because people and actions cannot ever be neutral, and they can therefore not be gender-neutral.

Gender norm

Gender norms are the social conventions and expectations that a society attaches to a sex or gender identity. The current western gender norms are binary. They assume a dichotomy between men and women, prescribing that these two groups must behave in two different and clearly defined ways.


A sexual orientation indicating a person who feels attracted to people of the opposite sex. It assumes a binary interpretation of sex (male/female).


The societal assumption that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation, and that everyone conforms to the associated (and often unwritten) social rules and expectations.


Intersex people are born with physical sexual characteristics that do not fit completely within the classic male/female dichotomy that society makes in both medical and sociocultural terms. This term refers to biological characteristics and does not take gender identity into consideration.

Legal gender designation

The legal gender designation, also known as official gender or legal sex, is the gender that is registered with the government. It is stated on various documents (e.g. ID cards).


A term describing a woman who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women.


An acronym used to refer to sexual, gender and sex diversity. L (lesbian), g (gay/homosexual), b (bi+), t (trans/transgender), q (queer or questioning). The plus sign at the end of the acronym refers to all individuals and groups that fall outside of (cis)gender and heteronormativity, but who do not fall under one of the letters mentioned. 


A term referring to feelings of aversion to and lack of understanding of LGBTQI+ people. These negative feelings are rooted in persistent prejudices concerning sexuality and gender. They can lead to a variety of situations, ranging from unkind remarks and discrimination to violence against individuals who do not conform to heteronormativity.

The term lgbtq+-phobia refers to LGBTQI+ people as a group. When referring to a specific case, one should refer to the specific sexuality of the person in question (e.g. Homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia).


Making an incorrect assumption about a person’s gender identity.


A non-binary person is someone who does not feel at home in the binary gender categories of male or female and feels more comfortable with a different, non-binary, gender identity. The term ‘gender non-binary’ is thus used to describe a person who combines masculine and feminine identity characteristics, who feels both male and female, who is neither male nor female, or whose gender identity falls entirely outside of these categories altogether. 

Non-binary is an umbrella term. Various terms are used to describe gender identities that fall outside of the binary gender model. Examples include ‘gender queer’, ‘gender non-conforming’, ‘agender’, ‘gender fluid’ and ‘bigender’.


Words used to refer to something or someone. The pronouns he/him/his are used to refer to men, and the pronouns she/her/hers are used to refer to women. The pronouns they/them/theirs are a gender-neutral option for referring to someone.

Non-binary people often choose this option to refer to themselves. Some people choose to use other pronouns or a combination of several pronouns.


A term often used as an umbrella term by people who are still searching for exactly where they are in the LGBTQI+ spectrum or by people wishing to make a clear statement against cisgender and heteronormative standards. The term also refers to a field of academic research.


An individual’s sex is assigned at birth. At that time, sex is assigned according to physical characteristics, and it is recorded as such on the birth certificate. It constitutes the legal gender designation. The western binary model assumes two sexes: male and female, with well-defined and distinct sexual characteristics. These two groups are part of the broad spectrum of sexual characteristics, but they do not constitute the full spectrum of sexual characteristics.

Sexual/romantic orientation

Sexual orientation has to do with sexual or romantic attraction and the people to whom one feels sexual or romantic attraction.


Transphobia involves feelings of aversion against trans people. These negative feelings are rooted in persistent prejudices, aversion and lack of understanding. They lead to a negative attitude towards trans people, their gender expression and their gender identity. It can lead to discrimination, and even to physical violence.


Process in which trans and non-binary people consciously make changes in their lives to match their physical characteristics with their true gender identity. The changes are motivated by their desire to be able to express themselves as they are and to feel like themselves, both mentally and physically. Each transition is highly personal.

Trans person or transgender person

An individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex/gender at birth. For example, a person who was assigned the female sex at birth but who does not feel like a woman is referred to as transgender. Individuals whose gender identity does match their assigned sex/gender at birth are referred to as cisgender.

‘transgender’ is thus an umbrella term for trans women/men, cross-dressers, people who identify as gender non-binary or queer, and anyone who can relate to the term. 

3. Ethnic-cultural terms


The act of opposing of racism by advocating for changes in political, social and economic life for people who are experiencing racism.


A hostile attitude towards, prejudice or discrimination against the jewish community.


Settling on and establishing dominance over land of indigenous peoples. Although colonisation is often situated as a term of the past, colonial processes continue to be present today.

Cultural identity

The identity or feeling of belonging to a group, related to nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality or any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture.

Cultural appropriation

Appropriation of cultural elements (e.g. Hair or clothing style) for one’s own use, commodification or profit. This can include the adoption or adaptation of cultural symbols, language, art or customs. Such appropriation is done without respect or acknowledgement of the value that the elements hold in their original culture.


Active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, cultural, psychic independence and power that originate from a colonised nations’ own indigenous culture. This process occurs primarily within a political context. The term also applies to the personal, societal, psychological, cultural, political, agricultural and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression. The term is not purely historical, as the process of decolonisation remains highly current.


A social construct that divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as a shared sense of group membership, values, behavioural patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base.

Ethnic culture

All customs, habits, values and physical characteristics that are linked to an individual’s ethnicity (or ethnicities).

Ethnic inequality

A situation in which two or more ethnic communities are not standing on approximately equal footing and do not receive equal opportunities (e.g. In the percentages of each ethnic community amongst incoming students, school drop-out rates, access to the housing market or employment opportunities).

Institutional racism

The process in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different ethnic-cultural groups without explicit reference to ethnic groups. The effect of institutional racism is the creation of advantages for whites and disadvantage or oppression for people from ethnic communities and people of colour.

Migration background

An individual is referred to as having a migration background if one of their parents or two of their grandparents do not have or did not have belgian nationality at birth.

Students with a migration background are students who have an official belgian home address and a secondary school diploma. They either do not have belgian nationality themselves or have at least one parent or at least two grandparents who did not have belgian nationality at birth. An eu group 1 has been defined within the countries of origin: denmark, germany, finland, france, ireland, iceland, lichtenstein, luxembourg, the netherlands, norway, austria, the united kingdom, sweden or switzerland. Students with an ethnic background from these countries are not regarded as students with a migration background.

*the term ‘people with a migration background’ is used to refer to a highly diverse group whose members do not all experience the same challenges and obstacles. For example, a person with an ethnic background from belgium’s neighbouring countries will not experience the same structural challenges in society as would a person with a background of migration from a non-EU country.

People of colour

A preferred collective term for ethnic groups characterised by brown or black skin.


Prejudice and discrimination against a group of people or a person based on their belonging to a particular ethnic community that is structurally excluded or marginalised. Racism also involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through shaping cultural beliefs and developing institutional policies and practices. Racism is thus inextricably linked to power

White fragility

The discomfort and defensive behaviour of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and social injustice.

White privilege

The societal privilege enjoyed by white people, as compared to people of colour.

4. Disability


No individual is excluded (whether implicitly or explicitly).


Tactile alphabet made of a series of raised dots, to be read with the fingers.


Descriptive text linked to a photo, illustration or other image for clarification purposes. In digital media, these are also referred to as ‘alt texts’

Chronic illness

A long-term condition or illness. These conditions can be either congenital or acquired, and they can be stable, deteriorate or improve.

Digital accessibility

Features designed to make digital environments accessible to all (e.g. Text-to-speech features, options for increasing text size, closed captioning).


A physical, sensory and/or mental trait becomes a disability when the environment is insufficiently adapted to this trait, thereby generating obstacles to participation. A disability can best be regarded as a social phenomenon originating in the unadapted environment, rather than in a medical abnormality of the individual.

Within the context of higher education, the comparable term ‘functional impairment’ is in common usage. Additional information of the disabilities that have been included as functional impairments is available here.

Hearing impairment

A term used to refer to hearing loss. There is great variability in the severity of hearing loss (mild, moderate, severe or profound/deaf), as well as in the nature of the hearing loss (sensory-neural or conductive impairment).

A person with a hearing impairment experiences barriers to participation in environments in which there is only auditory communication. In such environments, it is difficult for the person to distinguish and/or interpret auditory information.

Multiple disabilities

A combination of a severe mental disability and a motor disability.


ving a brain that functions in ways that diverges significantly from the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’. Examples could include people with autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and giftedness.


The natural and important variations in individual human brains, and thus the various manners of thinking and learning. Examples could include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and tourette syndrome. As with other variable human traits (e.g. Gender, orientation, culture), there is no right or wrong form of diversity.


Having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of ‘normal’.

Physical accessibility

Features designed to make environments accessible (e.g. Lifts in multi-story buildings, braille or other tactile signage for directions and wheelchair-accessible parking spaces). It includes the characteristics of spaces that enable all people to do what they should be able to do there, according to the purpose of the space.

Reasonable adjustment

A legally required change to remove or reduce the negative effect of an unadapted environment for an individual with a disability.

Sign language

The visual language of people with a hearing impairment. In sign language, words and letters are depicted with the body. Each region has its own sign language.

Sign language interpreter

Someone who interprets for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and a hearing person who does not know sign language, thereby allowing the two parties to communicate with each other

Special arrangements

Special arrangements are reasonable adjustments of lessons and exams that are intended to compensate functional impairments as much as possible.

For example:

  • Using text-to-speech software
  • Leaving a lecture early
  • Receiving extra time to take an exam
  • Spreading out exams
  • Access to lifts or car parks


Software that converts text into speech. Conversely, speech-to-text is also possible.

Visual impairment

A term used to refer to a partial or complete loss of vision.

A person with a visual impairment experiences barriers to participation only in environments requiring visual communication resources. In such environments, it is not easy for the person to distinguish and/or interpret information.

Is your word not included? Be sure to consult these useful websites (only in Dutch):

- – Inclusief Taalgebruik

-          Vrt – Woordenlijst Diversity

-          Çavaria - glossary

Team Diversity & Inclusion developed this glossary with the help of input from various stakeholders within and outside the university. We are grateful to the Study Advice and Student Counselling Services, Monitoraat op Maat, Pastoral Care, the LGBTQI+ network, the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (Unia), the OPEN Centre and the International Staff Office.