Inclusive Language Statement

Saint Mary’s University is committed to a respectful and inclusive environment where each individual and community is treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, where everyone feels accepted, and comfortable, and where each individual is entitled to live without discrimination and harassment. For more details about the University’s commitment to respect, diversity and inclusion, see About Respect at Saint Mary’s.

Santamarian values of respect and inclusion flow out of The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. The Act prohibits harassment and discrimination based on any of the following characteristics, in all areas of public life: age, race, colour, religion, creed, ethnic, national or Indigenous origin, sex (including pregnancy and pay equity), gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical disability, mental disability, family status, marital status, source of income, irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease, association with protected groups or individuals, political belief, affiliation or activity (Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, 2013).

The language we use is a powerful communicative tool that reflects social attitudes and realities, and as such it can be used to either perpetuate exclusionary and discriminatory attitudes or bring us closer together and increase the lines of respectful communication. For communication to be effective, it needs to appropriately address all audiences for which it is intended. Inclusive language acknowledges diversity in all its forms, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences and promotes equitable opportunities. Inclusive language is appropriate and important in all situations and should be used in all forms of communication—speech, online communication, publications, displays, posters and teaching materials.

Respectful communication entails regarding all persons with esteem, honour, dignity, and consideration, and refraining from offending anyone based of any real or perceived aspect of their personal identity. Disparaging and potentially offensive comments of any kind should be avoided at all times in the context of all types of formal communication on campus involving interactions between student/s and faculty, faculty and faculty, staff and students, staff and faculty, staff and staff, students and students, as well as interactions between faculty, staff members and students. Formal communication between members of the University community and members of the larger community should also be free of disparaging and potentially offensive comments, and should benefit from the guidelines presented in this statement.

Most examples of discriminatory language can occur with respect to the following: Indigenous peoples and identity; nationality, race, and ethnicity; gender expression and sexual orientation; sexism; and disability. Preferred language and terminology may vary among individuals, including those from a specific group. It is always best not to assume that one person represents all members of a particular community or group.

In all communication and materials, members of the University community are encouraged to look for authentic ways to portray and integrate equity and inclusion issues and diverse populations into examples, stories, written materials, etc. This type of communication is indicative of an institutional framework relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

In all communication and materials, members of the University community are encouraged to look for authentic ways to portray and integrate equity and inclusion issues and diverse populations into examples, stories, written materials, etc. This type of communication is indicative of an institutional framework relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Importance of intersectional understanding of language and identity

Everyone simultaneously occupies multiple identities.

Terminology that refers to attributes or identities such as race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, age or immigration and veteran status can adversely overemphasize one single identity and so feed into stereotypes and discrimination. At the same time, note that there are times when referencing a person’s identity or attribute can be an important affirmation and recognition that needs to be included. In all cases, consider context. For example, consider what is being accomplished by noting the characteristic or identity? Would you use the term “white professor” or “heterosexual musician” in this specific context?

Make room for each person’s complex identity and the complexity within different communities. For example, Muslims, Christians, Jews and all other denominations may be from many different races, ethnicities or geographic regions and they can never be thought of as possessing a homogenous identity. Or, be mindful that a person who uses a wheelchair may also be part of any of the LGBTQ2SIA+ communities.

Weight the use of general or specific terms when referencing places of worship, events or holidays, so as not to exclude any group or perspective, but be specific when the instance requires. For example, when discussing the calendar or date ranges, reference the season of the year (e.g. winter) rather than a specific holiday. If a specific holiday is intended, however, use the particular term (Christmas, Rosh Hashanah or Eid al-Fitr).

The following are some best practices and general guidelines for communication that reflects the University’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Indigenous people

The term Indigenous refers to the first inhabitants of Canada, and includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Inuit refers to specific groups of people generally living in the far north. The term Métis refers to a collective of cultures and ethnic identities that resulted from unions between Aboriginal and European people in what is now Canada.

People should not be identified as Indigenous unless they have requested the acknowledgement, and unless the circumstance demand it, making it disrespectful not to do so.

Always capitalize the term Indigenous, since it is a proper noun, just as the term European.

Both the term Indigenous and the term Aboriginal are English umbrella terms for First Nations peoples. The term Indigenous serves more of a government purpose and First Nations peoples, the Inuit and the Metis have seen it change every so often.

The best practice is to refer to First Nations peoples by their name. In the case of the largest group of First Nations peoples on the territory of SMU, L’nu (Ll’nuk,plural) is the name they call themselves, and is the name preferred by many Indigenous intellectuals, academics, elders and communities. L’nu is an abbreviated form of a longer word meaning “the people.” Also, note that First Nations peoples are dynamic and diverse, and there are some people in the community who continue to prefer Mi’kmaw.

Mi'kmaw is the singular, while Mi'kmaq is a plural noun that means "comrade/s." Because it is plural, the word Mi'kmaq always refers to more than one Mi'kmaw person or to the entire nation.

  • The Mi'kmaq have a rich history and culture.
  • The Mi'kmaw culture.
  • Saint Mary’s University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.

Mi’kma’ki is the right term for the area extending down from Gaspé Peninsula (meaning “land ends”) to Maine. From east in Takamkook (NL) and west to Quebec (meaning “the narrows”).

Whenever possible, be specific about the group, people or community, and defer to the community or individual(s) on how they prefer to be identified.

Do not use “Canada’s Indigenous people” to describe the Indigenous people that are in the country; instead use "First Nations peoples in Canada". Avoid using “Indigenous Canadians,” “Native Canadians” and the like. Many First Nations have signed treaties, which by definition are agreements between sovereign nations. Because of this unique historical relationship with the Canadian government and their own primary relationship with the lands that they have occupied for centuries before colonial conquest, many First Nations peoples do not consider themselves “Canadian.” Moreover, throughout the history of Canada, the government and society in general have oppressed Indigenous people; the treatment of First Nations peoples by colonial Canada is understood and experienced by them-- often unequivocally-- as a form of cultural genocide, and so many do not identify as being “Canadian.”

First Nations people are the largest Indigenous group in Canada. There are 618 First Nations recognized by the Canadian government. Use First Nation or community instead of “reserve,” unless the story is specifically about the tract of land allocated to a First Nation.

Métis is a nation-specific term connected to an Indigenous people in western Canada.

Inuit means people in the Inuktitut language while Inuk means person. Do not use “Inuit people” as it is redundant. As an adjective, use Inuk when describing a person (ie. “an Inuk Doctor”) but use Inuit if describing more than one (i.e. “three Inuit doctors”). Inuit can be used as an adjective for everything else (e.g. “Inuit drum, Inuit community”). Many Inuit prefer to be called Inuit instead of Indigenous.

The preferred way to provide a short territorial acknowledgment for SMU signatures and other correspondence is: Saint Mary's University is in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the L’nu.

Two Spirit is a contemporary, pan-Indigenous term specific to the Indigenous LGBT2QQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two Spirit, queer, questioning, intersexual, asexual) community. Not all Indigenous people that fall within the LGBT2QQIA spectrum identify as Two Spirit, and Two Spirit people also hold multiple identities. More to consider:

Two-spirits: L’nuwey Worldview The concept of two-spirit remains to be an umbrella term that represents various gender identities (trans, gender fluid, multiple gender expressions, non-binary, gender queer, gender nonconforming, or genderless) and sexuality (gay, bi, asexual, pansexual, etc.), which includes historical, cultural and spiritual contexts that constitute identity

Nationality, race, ethnicity

Racialization is the imposition or application of race onto people who are perceived as “different” based on their skin colour as a means of categorization or interpreting traits and behaviour. Racist language labels and stigmatizes particular racialized groups or attributes while at the same time privileging the category whiteness. Perceptions based on ‘race’ are used to discriminate against and differentiate between individuals and groups while creating and perpetuating stereotypes.

Assumptions based on someone’s perceived appearance or accent should be avoided at any time.

  • People should only be identified by race, colour, or nationality when it is TRULY pertinent.
  • Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races, ethnicities and communities:
    • e.g., African Nova Scotian, Arab, Black, Caucasian, Chinese, Cree, French-Canadian, Indigenous, Inuit, Jewish
  • Note: When used to describe a person, the capitalization of the adjective Black recognizes an identifiable community, a particular shared experience and specific history weighted with centuries of injustice.
  • Always check with the person for how they identify. Remember that all individual identities are always complex, culturally sophisticated, geographically specific, and/or regionally distinct.


Making assumptions based on labels and attitudes about age constitutes a form of discrimination known as ageism. Young people and older persons can experience ageism. The term "ageism" refers to two concepts: a socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging, and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons. Ageism also results from looking at and designing society based on the needs of either younger or older people, without looking for ways to include to all people, regardless of age.

Individuals can face discrimination on the basis of age at any time during their lives, and certain age groups tend to face different kinds of discrimination. Preconceived notions, myths and stereotypes about the aging process and older persons persist and give rise to discriminatory treatment.

Age often works in “intersection” or combination with other grounds of discrimination—such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, ability, etc.-- to produce unique forms of disadvantage. For example, women experience aging differently than men due to dominant social views that often privilege youth over age particularly in relation to women as it applies to their appearance, perceived ability and/or authority.

Another example of how age intersects with other identities is one of older persons with disabilities who face compounded disadvantages: those associated with age as well as those associated with disability.

Disparaging comments and remarks about age, whether subtle or intended as playful, should be avoided in all types of formal communication on campus.

Gender-neutral and gender-sensitive language

In the past, the masculine pronoun was commonly used in the English language to signify the non- specific "he or she". Inclusive language corrects this mislabelling practice by acknowledging that many people and identities are left out of the s/he construction.

Gender-neutral language is appropriate to avoid gendering an unknown or hypothetical subject and to be inclusive of all gender identities.

In other cases, it is appropriate to avoid gendered language and choosing alternate gender-neutral words (like pronouns or titles) to respect the gender identity of non-binary individuals (people who identify as neither male nor female).

To be more inclusive, avoid such language as mankind by using gender-neutral terms such as “humankind” or “humanity,” and by discussing hypothetical subjects in plural forms.

In addition, third-person plural pronouns “they” and “them” has been generally accepted to stand in for the gendered, third-person singular pronouns “he” and “him” and “she” and “her.” These pronouns have been adopted by non-binary individuals, although there exist pronouns for non-binary subjects, as well. In 2015, “they” was adopted by the Washington Post style guide, and in 2016, the American Dialect Society (ADS) named the singular use of “they” their Word of the Year”. Many Canadian federal agencies have adopted policies on gender-neutral language and pronouns. For example, the Canadian Justice Department recommends “gender-specific language should not be used in legislation. Gender-specific words should be replaced with gender-neutral words that have the same meaning.” Among the techniques to achieve more inclusive language use, “the use of the singular "they" and its other grammatical forms ("them", "themselves" and "their") to refer to indefinite pronouns and singular nouns” is recommended.

Just as with any other perceived singular aspect of identity, a person's sexual orientation and gender identity should NOT be mentioned unless particularly relevant to the context.

Some examples of gender-neutral and gender-sensitive language include:

  • “Doctors must complete residencies before their licensing exams,” or, “Each doctor must complete a residency before their licensing exam,” rather than “Each doctor must complete a residency before his licensing exam.”
    • “The students brought their textbooks,” or, “Every student brought their textbook,” rather than “Every student brought his textbook.”
  • “Humans are tool-building animals” rather than “Man is a tool-building animal”
  • “Every artist learns from those who came before” rather than “Every artist learns from those
  • who came before him”
  • Use gender-neutral language: "police officer" or "constable" instead of "policeman", "firefighter" instead of "fireman", "mail carrier" instead of "mailman", "flight attendant" instead of "stewardess", etc.
  • Gay and lesbian are the preferred terms to describe people attracted to the same sex;
  • homosexual is considered offensive by some.
  • Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. It includes people who identify as non-binary.
  • Two Spirit is appropriate only for Indigenous people who identify as such.
  • Never assume that a family of four is a man, a woman, and two children.
  • Never assume that a couple is a man and a woman.

Preferred Names

Many members of the University community choose to use a name that is different than their legal name. A preferred name is a name that persons may choose to be used instead of legal first name. This is not done for purposes of misrepresentation and is not just a preference; it is the only name they use and it is essential to their identity. This is why a preferred name is sometimes also known as a ‘chosen name.’

Western University, for example, lists the following situations when students may request the use of a chosen or preferred name:

  • Students who have a given name they are commonly known by (e.g., Ellie for Eleanor; JD for John Daniel).
  • Students who have a given name that may potentially be mispronounced (e.g., Nikolaj, Siobhan).
  • Students who use an anglicized or westernized first name (e.g., Jane instead of Xuan; Henry instead of Heydar).
  • Trans, Two-Spirit, and gender-nonconforming students who choose a name that reflects their gender identity or expression and (e.g., Ben instead of Elizabeth; Allie instead of Alexander), whose university experience and wellbeing are negatively impacted when their preferred name is not used.

All of the above can also apply to any other member of the University community.

For more details, see Updating Personal Information - Office of the Registrar - Western University ( as well as Legal and Preferred Names (



This section is relevant for inclusive language relating to physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health disabilities and linguistic minority groups.

According to the Federal Disability Reference Guide of Canada, Disability is described as

 “Disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and mind and features of the society in which they live. A disability can occur at any time in a person's life; some people are born with a disability, while others develop a disability later in life. It can be permanent, temporary or episodic. Disability can steadily worsen, remain the same, or improve. It can be very mild to very severe. It can be the cause, as well as the result, of disease, illness, injury, or substance abuse”.

Historically, reference has commonly been made regarding a medical and social model of disability. The Public Service Alliance of Canada describes the Medical model as a view of disability that stems from an impairment of the individual directly. This model is often found to be offensive and inaccurate. The social model of disability, on the other hand, describes how the environment is inaccessible to all individuals equally, therefore disability is the result of attitudinal and environment barriers-not the individual.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides another global framework that promotes the rights and advancement of persons with disabilities as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Some of the principles of the UN CRPD are:

  • Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  • Non-discrimination;
  • Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Accessibility;
  • Equality between men and women;
  • Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

See more details at Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Just like with any other type of prejudice and discrimination based on a perceived and/or assumed marker of singular identity, the issue is therefore one of attitudes and ideology, and as such, one requiring social change. (For more information relating specifically to disability and inclusion, see Defining Disability – CSPDM).

A reference to disability should be made ONLY when it is relevant to the topic under discussion. For example: Person who has cerebral palsy, etc., or person with cerebral palsy, etc. rather than afflicted by multiple sclerosis; Person born with a disability or person with a disability from birth, rather than birth defects; Person who uses a wheelchair, a wheelchair user, rather than wheelchair-bound; Person who ‘has a diagnosis of’ is ‘currently experiencing' or ‘is being treated for’ schizophrenia or depression rather than a schizophrenic or a depressive.

An effort should be made not to use words like “crazy”, “lame”, or “blind” as negative adjectives in communications, as in, for example, “the administration was blind to our concerns; “the chair’s decision on this was crazy. “Some communities often have specific ways of expressing aspects of their individuality or in some cases, identity. For example, some groups of individuals with the formerly called Aspergers Syndrome refer to themselves as “Aspies”(Please see Autism Awareness Centre Inc.). On the contrary, some individuals do not want to be a part of a generalized or collective group. 

For example, “hearing impaired” is not acceptable in referring to people with hearing loss. “Hearing impairment” is a medical condition; it is not a collective noun for people who have varying degrees of hearing loss. It also fails to recognize the differences between the Deaf and the hard of hearing communities. The use of Deaf (with a capitol D) is a sociological term referring to those individuals who are medically deaf or hard of hearing who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and language of Deaf people, which is based on Sign Language. Their preferred mode of communication is a Sign Language. A hard of hearing person is a person whose hearing loss ranges from mild to profound and whose usual means of communication is speech. It is both a medical and a sociological term. (For more examples, see Terminology - Canadian Association of the Deaf - Association des Sourds du Canada)

Focusing on the person, and not the ‘impairment’ is the best practice. Using terminology such as ‘impaired’ or ‘impairment’ can be offensive to many people. For example, when referring to members of the blind community using the terms ‘blind’ or ‘low vision’ are accepted (CNIB Nova Scotia Region).

In all cases, respect for a person’s individuality and agency should be a primary consideration in all forms of communication. Not all people who experience barriers to access identify as “persons with disabilities”; an effort should always be made to ascertain what the person’s preference is before referring to them as a person with a disability. Neurodiversity, for example, means having a brain that is wired differently yet this difference is a completely normal variation across the broad spectrum of individuality. The terms neurodivergent and neurotypical can also be used to describe someone who identifies as having autism, ADHD and Dyslexia (For more, see Neurodiversity: What you need to know).

Some disabilities, like learning ones, for example, are non-evident or “invisible” disabilities. Individuals may choose not to disclose at all, and/or people may live with disabilities that aren’t immediately apparent - do not assume that you are communicating with a group of people without disabilities.

In thinking about using inclusive language, users of this guide should also strive to use accessible modes of communication such as, for example, to use screen-readable documents, image descriptions, videos in a Sign Language, closed captions, etc.


This document has been prepared with input from many members of the SMU community. The SMU Senate welcomes suggested revisions and improvements to this document on an annual basis.

Further Resources

Bauer, Jan, and International Centre for Human Rights Democratic Development. "Only Silence Will Protect You": Women, Freedom of Expression and the Language of Human Rights. Montreal, Qué.: International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, 1996. Print. Essays on Human Rights and Democratic Development; 6.

Bellemare, Charles. Physical Disability and Labor Market Discrimination. Center for InterU Research and Analysis on Organizations, 2018. Working Paper.

Beltrán, Elina Vilar, Abbott, Chris, and Jones, Jane. Inclusive Language Education and Digital Technology. Bristol: MULTILINGUAL MATTERS, 2013. New Perspectives on Language and Education; 30.

Canadian Electronic Library Distributor. Words Matter: Guidelines on Using Inclusive Language in the Workplace. Vancouver, BC, CA: British Columbia Public Service, 2017. Documents Collection.

Chin, Jean Lau. The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Westport, CN: Praeger, 2004. Praeger Perspectives.

Culturally Relevant Gender-based Models of Reconciliation. Native Women's Association of Canada, 2010.

Dovidio, John F., Hewstone, Miles, Glick, Peter, and Esses, Victoria M. The SAGE Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010.

Fabrizio Butera, and Frederique Autin. Institutional Determinants of Social Inequality. Frontiers Media, 2016.

Government of Canada. Department of Justice. Legistics: Gender-neutral Language. 2015. Accessible at:

Government of Canada. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. “Modernizing the Government of Canada's Sex and Gender Information Practices: Summary Report.” September 2018. Accessible at:

Gur, Raquel E, and Ruben C Gur. “Gender Differences in Aging: Cognition, Emotions, and Neuroimaging Studies.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 4,2 (2002): 197-210. 

Healey, Justin. Racial Prejudice and Discrimination. Thirroul, N.S.W.: Spinney, 2014. Issues in Society (Balmain, N.S.W.); v. 370.

Nangia, Parveen. Discrimination Experienced by Landed Immigrants in Canada. Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, 2013. RCIS Working Paper.

Simpson, George Eaton, and Yinger, J. Milton. Racial and Cultural Minorities: An Analysis of Prejudice and Discrimination. 4th ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Tuohy, Dympna, and Adeline Cooney. “Older Women's Experiences of Aging and Health: An Interpretive Phenomenological Study.” Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine 5 2333721419834308 (2019), doi:10.1177/2333721419834308

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