Diversity style guide

Language around diversity continues to evolve, and writers should be thoughtful and open to discussions about what constitutes fair and precise language. This document relies on guidance from the ADA National Network site, the AP Stylebook, GLAAD Media Reference Guide, the U.S. Census Bureau site, and university resources for faculty and staff. However, in some instances, we make recommendations that fall outside of the style established by other organizations.



Refers to someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

Gender, sex

The two words don’t mean the same thing and should not be used interchangeably. Gender refers to someone’s social identity, according to the AP Stylebook, and sex refers to biological characteristics. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide defines gender identity as people’s internal deeply held sense of their gender.

Gender expression

The way a person expresses gender identity — through clothing, use of pronouns (more on this in the names and pronoun use section), hairstyle, behavior, etc.


LGBTQ stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning.” Although reclaimed by some groups, the word “queer” has been historically considered a slur. Limit use of “queer” to names of organizations and instances when people tell you they prefer to be known as queer. Acceptable on first reference without spelling out the acronym.


People who feel their gender falls outside the categories of man and woman. Not synonymous with transgender or transsexual.


People whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from their sex assigned at birth.


An older term that describes those who have altered their bodies using hormones and/or medical procedures. Many transgender people are not transsexual and don’t want to be called transsexual. If their gender expression is an important aspect of what you are writing, ask what they prefer.


Use of transgender

Transgender is an adjective, so its proper use is before a noun, for example, transgender man. Do not say that someone “is a transgender” or add an “ed” to it. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide points out that we don’t say that someone is lesbianed or gayed, so we shouldn’t use transgendered, either.


Use the name given to you by the person you’re featuring, even if that name is not in the university’s online directory. If the person’s name in the directory doesn’t match what you’ve been given (and this is possible because the KU directory lists legal names), do not use the name from the directory and then put the person’s chosen name in quotes.

Gender neutrality

When writing about department heads, use “chair” rather than “chairman” to avoid the presumption of maleness.

When possible, use plurals. Refer to “students” or “professors” and use plural pronouns or the second person. For example: Students are required to buy a meal plan, and you’ll be able to choose among several plan options.


We recommend you adopt this policy on pronouns: Ask the people you’re interviewing what pronouns they’d like you to use, and use those pronouns. To avoid confusion, you may wish to add an editor’s note to the story or document. Some people whose identities aren’t exclusively masculine or feminine prefer ze/zir/zirs and ze/hir/hirs. Others prefer the singular they.

AP Style uses the singular they/them/their as gender-neutral pronouns in writing. Because the singular they is still unfamiliar to many people and can cause confusion, make sure your writing doesn’t imply more than one person.

The AP Stylebook stipulates that when the pronoun “they” is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb. For example: Kelly said they want to major in English.

People with disabilities

If disability is not a part of what you’re writing about and there’s not a need to include it, don’t do so. Don’t portray people as victims. Avoid phrases like “suffers from” or “afflicted with.” Conversely, don’t portray people as heroic or inspirational. Avoid overly dramatic references and be respectful.

There are two types of disability language — people-first language and identity language — and there are differences of opinion within the various communities about which should be used.

People-first language focuses on the abilities of the individual, not limitations. For example, people-first language states that someone “uses a wheelchair” rather than that he is “confined to a wheelchair.” Wheelchairs and communication devices provide independence for their users rather than isolating them.

Identity language expresses pride through direct statements such as “I am blind,” focusing on identity as a way of proudly owning a disability.


Some people who are autistic object to phrases like “He is on the autism spectrum” in favor of identity language like “He is autistic.”

Deaf community

This community is an exception to “people-first language” and often refers to its members as “Deaf with a capital D” rather than “people who are deaf.” They share a common language —American Sign Language — culture, and experiences. Some within higher education describe sign language users as Deaf and those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids or lip-read as deaf.

What to do?

Ask the people you are writing or talking about how they define themselves. As with other communities, be respectful.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA became law in 1990. It’s a civil rights law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including housing, employment, and school, and prohibits discrimination in all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Use “accessible” when describing a location or event that has been modified to comply with the ADA.

Accessibility and accommodation statement

The university requires that the following statement appear on KU promotional materials for all events that invite public participation or attendance:

If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate in this event, please contact {insert sponsoring department/program or contact person} by {insert date two weeks prior to event date} at {insert phone number or email address}.

Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity aren’t the same thing. The federal government defines race as membership in one or more social groups, and the U.S. Census Bureau asks people to select from these categories: white, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander, some other race, or two or more races.

The U.S. Census Bureau also gathers information about ethnicity, breaking it into two categories: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. A person who reports being Hispanic or Latino can identify as any race.

The university requests information about race from prospective students when they express interest in KU or apply. Providing the information is optional. The state of Kansas requires that its new employees fill out a data sheet specifying their citizenship status, their primary race and affiliated racial categories, and whether they are Hispanic or Latino.

A note about identification: Think carefully about whether it is important to identify someone by race. If a person’s race is not relevant to your communication, drawing attention to it can be interpreted as bigotry. If race is important to the context of your piece, ask the people in it how they prefer to be identified. Don’t make assumptions.

Black, African American

Capitalize Black as an adjective in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense to communicate a shared history, identity, and culture among people in the United States and within Africa. Do not use as a singular noun.

AP Style says African American is also acceptable for an American Black person of African descent. African American and Black aren’t necessarily interchangeable. For example, AP Style points out that people from Caribbean nations generally refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Do not hyphenate dual heritage terms like African American or Caribbean American.


Avoid this imprecise term unless it is part of a direct quote. Definitions of its meaning vary widely.

American Indian, Alaska Native, Native American

Used to describe those who inhabited the land that became the United States or the descendants of those native people. Follow the person’s preference. Where possible, use the name of the tribe.

Asian American

AP Style suggests that when possible, refer to a person’s country of origin. Do not hyphenate.

Hispanic, Latino/a

Hispanic is often used to describe people whose origins are in Spanish-speaking countries. Latino and Latina refer to those with Latin American origins. Many Hispanics identify as Latino or Latina. However, Brazilians, whose language is Portuguese, don’t identify as Hispanic but may consider themselves Latinos/as.


Capitalize Indigenous, which refers to the original inhabitants of a place.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term used instead of Latino or Latina. It often appears in the names of academic symposiums and groups. Our style is to use Latinx when it’s requested or when it is a part of the official name of a group or event.


Lowercase white. Do not use as a singular noun.

Affirmative action/nondiscrimination statements

All bound, stapled, stitched, and glued publications, the KU home page, and KU electronic newsletters such as KU Today must contain the university’s full nondiscrimination statement on them:

The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability, status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university's programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy. The following persons have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies and are the Title IX coordinators for their respective campuses: Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, civilrights@ku.edu, Room 1082, Dole Human Development Center, 1000 Sunnyside Ave., Lawrence, KS 66045, 785-864-6414, 711 TTY (for the Lawrence, Edwards, Parsons, Yoder, and Topeka campuses); Director, Equal Opportunity Office, Mail Stop 7004, 4330 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Fairway, KS 66205, 913-588-8011, 711 TTY (for the Wichita, Salina, and Kansas City, Kansas medical center campuses).

Postcards, posters, folded brochures, and fliers must contain one of the short forms of the statement:

The University of Kansas is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.


KU is an EO/AA institution.