Bias Glossary

It is important that all members of the CWRU community are approaching these issues with a common vocabulary. As such, we are sharing this glossary of social justice terms. This glossary is neither exhaustive nor definitive. Because of the way that language works, particularly around these concepts, it is important to note that many of these terms continue to evolve.

A bias incident is any discriminatory or hurtful behavior/action directed towards an individual or group of people. It is based upon actual or percieved identity characteristics or background including but not limited to race,  sex (gender identity/expression), color religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation. These acts may create hostile environment and have a negative social, emotional or physical impact on an individual, group or community. 

Types of Bias

Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

  • Ableism: prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in physical, mental and/or emotional ability; usually that of able‐bodied/minded persons against people with illness, disabilities or less developed skills
  • Anti‐Semitism: the fear or hatred of Jews, Judaism and related symbols
  • Biphobia: the fear or hatred of persons perceived to be bisexual
  • Classism: prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in socio‐economic status, income, class; usually by upper classes against lower classes
  • Discrimination: actions based on conscious or unconscious prejudice that favor one group over others in the provision of goods, services or opportunities
  • Hate Crime: hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation of any person
  • Heterosexism: viewing the world only in heterosexual terms, thus denigrating other sexual orientations
  • Homophobia: the fear or hatred of homosexuality (and other nonheterosexual identities) and persons perceived to be gay or lesbian
  • Implicit Bias: occurs when someone consciously rejects stereotypes and supports antidiscrimination efforts but also holds negative associations in his/her mind unconsciously
  • In‐group Bias: the tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically and emotionally in order to uplift one group over another
  • Islamaphobia: the fear or hatred of Muslims, Islam and related symbols
  • Marginalized: excluded, ignored or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community
  • Microaggression: everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to historically marginalized groups by well-intentioned members of the majority group who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent
  • Oppression: results from the use of institutional power and privilege where one person or group benefits at the expense of another; oppression is the use of power and the effects of domination
  • Prejudice: a preconceived judgment about a person or group of people, usually indicating negative bias
  • Racism: prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in race/ethnicity, usually by white/European descent groups against people of color
  • Sexism: prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on difference in sex/gender, usually by men against women
  • Silencing: the conscious or unconscious processes by which the voice or participation of particular social identities is excluded or inhibited
  • Stereotype: blanket beliefs, unconscious associations and expectations about members of certain groups that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude or uncritical judgment. Stereotypes go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little information and are highly generalized.
  • System of Oppression: conscious and unconscious, nonrandom, and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups
  • Transphobia: the fear or hatred of persons perceived to be transgender and/or transexual
  • Xenopobia: the fear or hatred of foreigners
Types of Incidents
  • Accessibility: design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers)
  • Bullying: actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose
  • Email, Social Media, Other Internet Contact: the collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media
  • Fear and Safety: Fear is defined as very unpleasant or disturbing feeling caused by the presence or imminence of danger. Safety is defined as the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury
  • Harassment: the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious.
  • Intimidation: intentional behavior that would cause a person fear of injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened.
  • Inappropriate/Discriminatory Comment: characterized by or showing prejudicial treatment, especially as an indication of bias related to age, color, national origin, religion, sex, etc.
  • Microaggressions: everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to historically marginalized groups by well-intentioned members of the majority group who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent- Dr. Derald Wing Sue
  • Retaliation: any adverse action that a company takes against an employee because they filed a complaint about harassment or discrimination. Adverse action can include actions such as firing the employee, giving them negative evaluations, disciplining or demoting them, reassigning them or reducing their pay
  • Perceived Unequal Treatment: not giving the same treatment or opportunities to everyone, and therefore unfair
  • Phone Harassment: any kind of unwanted telephone call that's intended to cause upset, grief and alarm. It's an invasion of privacy, and a form of bullying. The caller might know the victim, or it could be the result of a random dial. It may be a one-off call, or a campaign of abuse
  • Physical Contact/Assault: Takes place when an individual or a group provokes and attacks a person physically, with or without the use of a weapon, or threatens to hurt that person. Work-related aggression happens through the use of force or threats to a non-consenting victim on the work premises or in the context of the victim’s work 
  • Property Damage/Vandalism: action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property
  • Sexual Assault: sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape (CWRU)
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment (Title IX)
  • Stalking: harassing another in an aggressive, often threatening and illegal manner. Of or relating to the act of pursuing or harassing
  • Text Message Harassment: a form of harassment involving the use of text messaging services. Harassers can use a number of tactics including flooding the victim with text messages and sending abusive or threatening messages. This form of harassment often accompanies dating violence, bullying, or sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Threat of Physical Assault: a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done.
  • Threatening Statements: to pose a danger to someone or something, or to make someone believe you pose a danger by making statements indicating an intent to harm them.
  • Unwanted Sexual Conduct/Sexual Harassment: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
  • Verbal Assault: a negative defining statement told to the victim or about the victim, or by withholding any response, thereby defining the target as non-existent
  • Written Hate Speech or Graffiti: attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, religion, race, disability, age or sexual orientation

Our identities are who we are as individuals, including our personal characteristics, history, personality, name and other characteristics that make us unique and different from other individuals.

  • Asexual: someone who does not experience sexual attraction
  • Biracial: a person who identifies as coming from two races; a person whose biological parents are of two different races
  • Bigender/Dual Gender: a person who possesses and expresses a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona and is comfortable in and enjoys presenting in both gender roles
  • Bisexual: a person who is attracted to people of their own gender as well as another gender.
  • Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity, gender expression and biological sex align (e.g., man, masculine and male)
  • Ethnicity: the culture of people in a given geographic region, including their language, heritage, religion and customs
  • First Nations People: individuals who identify as those who were the first people to live on the Western Hemisphere continent; people also identified as Native Americans
  • Gender: social, cultural and psychological traits linked to males and females that define them as masculine or feminine
  • Gender Identity: refers to a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being a man or woman, or something other or in between, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth; because gender identity is internal and personally defined, it is not visible to others.
  • Heterosexual: a person attracted to members of another sex or gender
  • Homosexual: a person who is attracted to members of what they identify as their own sex or gender (the terms Gay and Lesbian are preferred)
  • Intersex: a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive organs, sexual anatomy or chromosomes that are not considered “standard” for either male or female
  • LGBTQIA: an inclusive term for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual
  • Multiracial: a person who identifies as coming from two or more races; a person whose biological parents are of two or more different races
  • Multiethnic: a person who identifies as coming from two or more ethnicities; a person whose biological parents are of two or more ethnicities
  • Pansexual (also referred to as omnisexual or polysexual): referring to the potential for sexual attractions or romantic love toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes; the concept of pansexuality deliberately rejects the gender binary.
  • People of Color: used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white; the term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.
  • Queer: an umbrella term that can refer to anyone who transgresses society’s view of gender, sexual orientation or sexuality
  • Questioning: refers to an individual who is uncertain of her/his sexual orientation, gender or identity
  • Race: refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics that result from genetic ancestry. Sociologists use the concept of race to describe how people think of and treat groups of people, as people very commonly classify each other according to race (e.g., as African-American or as Asian). Most sociologists believe that race is not real in the sense that there are no distinctive genetic or physical characteristics that truly distinguish one group of people from another; instead, different groups share overlapping characteristics.
  • Religion: a system of beliefs, usually spiritual in nature, and often in terms of a formal, organized denomination
  • Sex: separate from gender, this term refers to the cluster of biological, chromosomal and anatomical features associated with maleness and femaleness in the human body. Sexual dimorphism is often thought to be a concrete reality, whereas in reality the existence of Intersex points to a multiplicity of sexes in the human population. Sex is often used synonymously with gender in this culture. Although the two terms are related, they should be defined separately to differentiate the biological (“sex”) from the sociocultural (“gender”).
  • Sexual Orientation: refers to the gender(s) that a person is emotionally, physically, romantically and erotically attracted to. Examples of sexual orientation include homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual and asexual. Trans and gender-variant people may identify with any sexual orientation, and their sexual orientation may or may not change before, during or after gender transition.
  • Social Identity: involves the ways in which one characterizes oneself, the affinities one has with other people, the ways one has learned to behave in stereotyped social settings, the things one values in oneself and in the world, and the norms that one recognizes or accepts governing everyday behavior
  • Transgender: has many definitions. It is frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to all people who deviate from their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system. This includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueers, drag kings, drag queens, two-spirit people and others. Some transgender people feel they exist not within one of the two standard gender categories but rather somewhere between, beyond or outside of those two genders.
  • Transsexual: refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex he/she was born as and the sex he/she identifies as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.
  • Age: a period of human life, measured by years from birth, usually marked by a certain stage or degree of mental or physical development and involving legal responsibility and capacity (
  • Disability: any mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity is a disability. (ESS)
  • Ethnicity: Ethnicity refers to cultural traits that are shared by a category of people such as language, religion, or national origin. When people integrate ethnicity as part of their identity and create a specific cultural, religious or national community, they self-consciously constitute an ethnic group.
  • Gender Identity or Expression: a personal conception of oneself as male, female, both, neither, or something else. This concept is intimately related to the concept of gender role, which is defined as the outward manifestations of personality that reflect the gender identity.(Human Rights Campaign)
  • Nationality: an ethnic group forming a part of one or more political nations (Merriam Webster)
  • Pregnancy Status: The period during which one is pregnant, or with child
  • Race: a population within a species that is distinct in some way, especially a subspecies
  • Religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. (Merriam-Webster)
  • Sex (Sex Assigned at Birth): The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another sex assigned at birth often based on physical anatomy at birth and/or karyotyping. (
  • Sexual Orientation: A persons enduring physical, romantic, emotional, and/or other form of attraction to others. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is exclusively attracted to other women would often identify as lesbian.(
  • Socioeconomic Status: is an economic and sociological combined total measure of a person's work experience and of an individual's or family's economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education, and occupation commonly conceptualized as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation (American Psychological Association)
  • Veteran Status: a person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and. was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. (US Department of Veterans Affairs)
Other Helpful Terms
  • Advocate: someone who speaks up for her/himself and members of his/her identity group; e.g., a woman who lobbies for equal pay for women. Advocates acknowledge responsibility as citizens to shape public policy to address intentional or unintentional harm to minorities and the oppressed, whether caused by action or inaction.
  • Ally: someone who speaks on behalf of others in need or distress until they are empowered to speak for themselves
  • Bias Incident: a discriminatory or hurtful act that appears to be motivated or is perceived by the victim to be motivated all or in part by race, ethnicity, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. To be considered an incident, the act is not required to be a crime under any federal, state or local statutes.
  • Color Blind: the belief in treating everyone “equally” by treating everyone the same; based on the presumption that differences are, by definition, bad or problematic and therefore best ignored (i.e., “I don’t see race, gender, etc.”)
  • Dialogue: “communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings” (Wink, 1997); it is bidirectional, not zero‐sum and may or may not end in agreement. Dialogue can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful and has greater understanding as its goal.
  • Diversity: the wide variety of shared and different personal and group characteristics among human beings
  • Doing Gender: the notion that gender emerges not as an individual attribute but as something that is accomplished in interaction with others
  • Dominant Culture: the cultural values, beliefs and practices that are assumed to be the norm and are most influential within a given society
  • Privilege: a right, license or exemption from duty or liability granted as a special benefit, advantage or favor
  • Safe Space: refers to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and participating fully without fear of attack, ridicule or denial of experience
  • Social Justice: is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.
  • Tolerance: acceptance and open‐mindedness to different practices, attitudes and cultures; does not necessarily connote agreement with the differences

This glossary was compiled from existing resources provided by the National Conference for Community and Justice, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, Intergroup Relations Center, Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective, 5/e by Linda Lindsey. Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2011, The National Center for Transgender Equality,, and, Gender Equity Resource Center, BGSU, University of Michigan, Indiana University, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Ed by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, Pat Griffin).