Usage of ability and disability, gender-neutral and racially sensitive terminology.
“Calvin College is committed to creating a campus environment which honors the diversity of gender and race in the Christian community. Since language is a powerful influence in our academic community, we are committed to using inclusive language in all areas of the Calvin community’s life,” says the “Policy on Inclusive Language,” adopted by Calvin on Nov. 2, 1992.
- CORRECT: Ms. Marchand, who has fibromyalgia, chooses her outfits based on which shoes are most comfortable each morning.
Do not use the term handicapped.
- CORRECT: Lee was disappointed to see a vehicle without a sticker in an accessible parking spot.
- CORRECT: At her new workplace, Ingrid had no trouble finding an accessible bathroom.
When referring to a person who does not have a disability, use non-disabled or person without a disability. Avoid the terms able-bodied, normal and whole whenever possible when contrasting with a person who has a disability.
- CORRECT: Student Academic Services provides study assistance for students with dyslexia.
Exception: Some disability communities prefer identity-first language. Whenever possible, ask which approach the person prefers. If unsure, use person-first language.
- CORRECT: Members of the Deaf community use a capital D when referring to Deaf culture and a lower case d when referring to audiological status.
- CORRECT: The Autism Self Advocacy Network is run by a group of autistic adults.
- CORRECT: Herb’s persistent depression contributed to his decision to take his own life.
Do not use mental health terms in other contexts.
- INCORRECT: Leanne was OCD about arranging the tables for the bake sale.
- INCORRECT: The president has a schizophrenic approach to public policy.
- CORRECT: All four men living at My Brother’s House have intellectual disability.
Other terms to avoid:
- abnormal (in reference to a person)
- birth defect
- deaf and dumb / deaf-mute
- insane or crazy
- lame (in reference to a person or with the meaning mediocre)
- vegetable (in reference to a person)
For more information on disability language, visit the National Center on Disability and Journalism.
- INCORRECT: The texts chosen for the popular interim were by Dickens and Jane Austen.
- INCORRECT: The texts chosen for the popular interim were by Dickens and Ms. Austen.
- CORRECT: The texts chosen for the popular interim were by Dickens and Austen.
- CORRECT: She was the lead actor in several Calvin Theatre Company productions, and she almost never removed her stage makeup—which was weird.
- chair or chairperson instead of “chairman”
- spokesperson instead of “spokesman”
- mail carrier or postal carrier instead of “mailman”
- firefighter instead of “fireman”
- CORRECT: She was the spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Calvinists.
- CORRECT: He served as chair of the department of humanities until inhumane treatment forced him to resign, and she took his place.
- INCORRECT: Everyone should pack his copy of The Riverside Handbook to read on the long bus ride to Grammar Camp.
- CORRECT: Everyone should pack a copy of The Riverside Handbook to read on the long bus ride to Grammar Camp. (Insert a in place of pronoun.)
It is not necessary to change the singular to a plural when employing they, but either solution is acceptable. Avoid the structure his or her, which does not account for persons who do not align with either of these descriptors.
- INCORRECT: Everyone should pack his or her copy of The Riverside Handbook to read on the long bus ride to Grammar Camp.
- CORRECT: Everyone should pack their copy of The Riverside Handbook to read on the long bus ride to Grammar Camp.
- CORRECT: All students should pack their copies of The Riverside Handbook to read on the long bus ride to Grammar Camp. (Change the singular to a plural.)
Always use they when referring to persons who do not use gendered pronouns for themselves, unless specifically requested otherwise.
See also M.LGBT+.4.
- CORRECT: The professor, who had been rebuked early in his career for sneering at “certain lady authors,” also offered a course on women in literature during which he referred to Becky Sharp as a “hussy.”
- CORRECT: A group of LGBT+ students and friends made M&M pancakes for the You Are Loved campaign.
2. Do not use homosexual in any context where same-sex can be used. Use same-sex oriented to describe a person, and same-sex couple, same-sex marriage, same-sex sexual behavior, etc. Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references a gay or alternative “lifestyle.”
- INCORRECT: Avery Dameron ’04, a homosexual ophthalmologist, will present his recent research on underwater glasses to Professor Walhout’s optics class.
- CORRECT: Avery Dameron ’04, an ophthalmologist, will present his recent research on underwater glasses to Professor Walhout’s optics class.
3. Gay may refer to men only, or more generally to men and women who are same-sex oriented. In specific references to women, lesbian is preferred. When the distinction is useful, write gay men and lesbians. Do not use gay as a singular noun.
- CORRECT: Several gay students raised concerns about the Boer-Bennink all-dorm date.
- CORRECT: Several gay and lesbian students raised concerns about the Boer-Bennink all-dorm date.
4. Refer to a transgender person with their desired pronouns. If no preference is known, use they. However, make an effort to learn a person’s preferred pronouns. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. Include a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinent to a story.
- CORRECT: Alex Krupp, a transgender student, shared his story as part of a Transgender 101 event.
See also M.gender.4.
1. Use the U.S. Census Bureau’s terms—White; Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander—when referring to persons of a particular racial or ethnic group. Whenever possible, ask the individual their preferred term. Capitalize any term referring to a particular racial or ethnic group.
- CORRECT: The Black Lives Matter panel during UnLearn week featured African American, Asian and White panelists.
- CORRECT: Mai spoke with great respect of her Navajo heritage.
For complete U.S. Census Bureau guides, visit census.gov/topics/population/race/about.html.
- CORRECT: The scholar who spoke on the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe was African American.
- CORRECT: She was an Asian-American scholar who taught African-American literature.
See also G.hyphen.1.