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Inclusive and Affirming Language

At UMBC, we welcome and celebrate our diverse community of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. We strive to create an inclusive atmosphere that respects the broad spectrum of identities and backgrounds of all Retrievers. Inclusivity begins with our language. To that end, the university offers this living document on inclusive, welcoming language.

This is not a comprehensive guide but meant to offer a path forward. We recognize that all languages shift over time and we should continually examine and adjust our communications. Should you have any questions about the content on this page, or if you’re looking for guidance on certain word usage, please contact us at the emails on the sidebar.

Use Gender-Inclusive Language

Below are some commonly used titles and phrases that rely on an unnecessarily gendered perspective. These are only examples and do not capture the breadth of this practice, but please bear in mind that words with masculine markers (or feminine, though they are less common) can and should be replaced with non-gender–specific language.


  • freshman → first-year student
  • mankind → humanity, people, human beings
  • the best man for the job → the best person for the job
  • man-made → synthetic, manufactured, machine-made
  • manning the booth → staffing the booth
  • chairman → chairperson, coordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair
  • businessman → business executive
  • congressman → congressional representative

Ask About Pronouns

The easiest way to know how to refer to someone is to ask how they refer to themself, including what pronouns they use. Modeling this behavior by first sharing your own pronouns creates an environment where people feel safe to share their pronouns. Singular “they” is an acceptable form to use if you are unsure, or you can use the person’s name in place of a pronoun.

In group settings, to avoid singling anyone out, make this a commonplace habit that is part of regular introductions. The first step to creating a welcoming atmosphere in person and online is treating others the way they want to be treated, and that includes utilizing an inclusive range of pronouns that reflect people’s identities.

In general usage, there are several alternative approaches to using a singular, gendered pronoun.

  • Recast into the plural.
    • Use: Give students their papers as soon as they are finished.
    • Not: Give each student his paper as soon as he is finished.
  • Reword to eliminate gender.
    • Use: The average student is worried about grades.
    • Not: The average student is worried about her grades.

Use Gender-Inclusive Alternatives to Binary Assumptions

Instead of using expressions that include only two genders (i.e., ladies and gentlemen, sir and madam), the terms below allow your speech and writing to invite inclusion to all members of the community. The exact language that should be used in a specific situation depends on context and judgment.

Examples of Inclusive Terms

  • Esteemed guests
  • This person
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Everyone
  • The participant
  • Faculty members
  • Family
  • People
  • Children

Writing About Race and Culture

Following guidance from the Diversity Style Guide, UMBC capitalizes Black or White when writing about race. Phrases denoting heritage, such as Asian American and African American should not be hyphenated.

For guidance on making statements in support of Black community members, visit this page created by the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Additional Resources

As language evolves, this style guide will expand and update to encompass those developments. We welcome additional ideas for resources and feedback on the available information, and also invite readers to see additional resources below.

UMBC Resources

External Resources