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Inclusive Language Guide


Members of the Hamilton community represent diverse races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, physical abilities, religions, and socioeconomic statuses. The language we use reflects this.

This supplement to the College’s Editorial Style Guide includes some current inclusive language terminology. The words and phrases in this guide are recommendations. As a general rule, ask the individuals or groups what terms they prefer.

Because guidelines around correct language use change and evolve over time, the Marketing & Communications Office will update this page regularly borrowing tips from the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and in consultation with the College's diversity and inclusion staff.

able-bodied
Avoid this term for people who don't have disabilities. If necessary to make a distinction, “nondisabled” or “people without disabilities” is preferable. (See “disabilities.”)

African American
No hyphen. See “Black, African American.”

Alaska Natives
Use this term to describe the Indigenous population of Alaska. (Note capitalization.) When possible, use the name of the tribe when referring to individuals.

American Indian
See “Native American, American Indian.”

Asian American
No hyphen. Use when referring to an American of Asian descent. When possible, refer to a person’s country of origin or follow the person's preference, i.e., Filipino American. Do not use “Asian” for “Asian American.”

autism spectrum disorder
This umbrella term refers to a group of developmental disorders that can involve varying degrees of language and social impairments, and repetitive behaviors (including Asperger’s syndrome). It encompasses mild autism and the more classic form. Use of the term “autism” is acceptable in stories.

BIPOC, POC
See “people of color.”

biracial, multiracial
Use, when clearly relevant, to describe people with more than one racial heritage. Avoid “mixed-race.” Usually more useful when describing large, diverse groups of people than individuals. Be specific, if possible, on first reference, and then use “biracial” on second reference. Examples: She has an African American father and a white mother. The study of biracial people showed a split in support along gender lines. 

Black, African American (adj.)
Use the capitalized term as an adjective in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense: Black people, Black culture, Black literature, Black studies. African American (no hyphen) is also acceptable for those in the U.S.; however, the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Americans of Caribbean heritage, for example, often refer to themselves as Caribbean American. Follow an individual’s preference, if known, and be specific when possible.

Use of the capitalized “Black” recognizes that language has evolved, along with the common understanding that, especially in the United States, the term reflects a shared identity and culture rather than a skin color alone.

Black(s), white(s) (noun)
Do not use either term as a singular noun. For plurals, phrasing such as Black people, white people, Black teachers, white students is often preferable when clearly relevant. 

Black Lives Matter
Use either “Black Lives Matter” or “the Black Lives Matter movement” when referencing the global movement launched after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin with a goal to eradicate systemic racism and white supremacy and to oppose violence against Black people. “BLM” acceptable on second reference. 

brown (adj.)
Avoid this broad and imprecise term in racial, ethnic, or cultural references unless as part of a direct quote. Interpretations of what the term includes vary widely.

bisexual
Use to describe people attracted to more than one gender. “Bi” is acceptable in quotations.

cisgender
Describes people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth; that is, not “transgender.” Explain if necessary. Not synonymous with “heterosexual,” which refers to sexual orientation.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
When necessary to identify people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, use “temporary resident status,” with details on the program included in the story for clarification. People brought into the U.S. as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. 

disabilities
The terms “disabilities” and “disabled” include a range of physical and mental conditions both visible and invisible. In general, refer to a disability only if relevant to the story or if the person uses the term. Example: Chris Conner ’25, who is blind, keeps the stats at every home basketball game thanks to a special computer program created by Professor Jim Smith. Not: Chris Conner ’25, who is blind, attends every home basketball game. Avoid “handicap” or “handicapped.”

Avoid using disability-related words lightly. Examples: calling a person or idea demented, psychotic, moronic, on the spectrum, etc.; saying a plan falls on deaf ears, or he turned a blind eye, or the play’s plot was schizophrenic. Words that seem innocuous to some can have offensive meanings to others. 

emigrate, immigrate
See” immigrate, emigrate.”

family/families
Consider the broader audience when referencing family relationships. Not all individuals, especially students, have parents. Use “family” or “families” when possible.  Example: The football players invited their families to the tailgate reception. Not: The football players invited their parents to the tailgate reception.

gay, lesbian
Use “gay” to describe people attracted to the same sex, although “lesbian” is the more common term for women. Do not use “homosexual.” Refer to someone’s sexual orientation only when pertinent to a story. “Gays” is acceptable as a plural noun, but do not use the singular “gay” as a noun.

gender-neutral pronouns
See “they, them, their.”

Hispanic
A person from — or whose ancestors were from — a Spanish-speaking land or culture. “Latino,” “Latina,” or “Latinx” are sometimes preferred. Follow the person’s preference. Use a more specific identification when possible, such as “Cuban,” “Puerto Rican,” or “Mexican American.”

illegal immigrant/alien, undocumented
See “undocumented, illegal immigrant/alien.”

immigrate, emigrate
One who leaves a country “emigrates” from it. One who comes into a country “immigrates.” The same principle holds for “emigrant” and “immigrant.”

Indigenous (adj.)
Use the capitalized term to refer to original inhabitants of a place: Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples represent some 62% of the population.

Juneteenth
June 19, the commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States,  became a federal holiday in 2021. Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day and Freedom Day. 

Latino, Latina, Latinx
Often the preferred noun or adjective for a person from a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latina is the feminine form. Some prefer the gender-neutral term Latinx, which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations, or descriptions of individuals who request it. See also “Hispanic.”

LGBTQ+
Preferable collective reference to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning and/or queer.

MARC
Acronym for Multicultural Alumni Relations Committee. MARC on second reference.

minority
Acceptable as an adjective in broad references to multiple races other than white: Hamilton seeks to admit more students from minority groups. When possible, be more specific by using such terms as Black Americans or Chinese Americans. Example: Most of the magazine's readers are Black women.  Not: Most of the magazine’s readers are minority women.

Do not use “minority” as a noun in the singular. But “minority students” or “minority communities” is acceptable.

multicultural
One word, no hyphen.

multiracial
See “biracial, multiracial.”

nationalities and races
Do not hyphenate ethnic groups, such as African American, Asian American, or Native American. This applies even as a compound modifier because it is considered a noun phrase: Sylvia Jones conducted research on African American perspectives of social injustice. 

Native American, American Indian
No hyphen. Both are acceptable terms for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. For individuals, use the name of the tribe when possible: She is a member of the Oneida Indian Nation. Some tribes and tribal nations use “member;” others use “citizen.” When in doubt, use “citizen.” 

“Indian” is used to describe the peoples and cultures of the South Asian nation of India. Do not use for “American Indians.”

nonbinary
People are “nonbinary” if their gender identity is not strictly male or female. Not synonymous with “transgender.” Explain in a story if the context doesn’t make it clear.

Pacific Islander
Use to describe Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands (i.e., Hawaii, Guam, and Samoa). Do not describe as “Asian Americans,” “Asians,” or “of Asian descent.”

parent/guardian
See “family/families”

pronouns
See “they, them, their”

people of color
Acceptable when necessary in broad references to multiple races other than white: Hamilton's goal is to hire more people of color. However, many object to the term for various reasons, including that it lumps together into one monolithic group anyone who isn’t white. Consider rewording: people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; diverse groups; various heritages; different cultures.

POC, BIPOC
See “people of color.”

race
Use caution when identifying a person by race. Often, one’s race is irrelevant, and drawing unnecessary attention to race or ethnicity may be seen as bigotry. There are, however, occasions when race is pertinent, such as in stories that involve groundbreaking or historic events — Barack Obama was the first Black U.S. president. Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice of the U.S. Supreme Court — or when writing about lectures, events, or programming that focus on race or issues such as civil rights.

Spectrum
Spectrum is a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ+) and straight ally alumni of Hamilton.

they, them, their
When writing about people who identify as neither male nor female, or who ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her, it is acceptable to use they/them/their as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. Consider these guidelines:

If possible, use the person’s name in place of a pronoun or reword the sentence. Clarity is first priority; gender-neutral use of a singular “they” can be confusing to readers. If they/them/their is used, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun and be sure the phrasing does not imply more than one person: Smith (who uses the “they” pronoun) said that their research will lead to a published paper in November.

When "they" is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb: Professor Smith is available at 3 p.m. They hold office hours every Tuesday afternoon.

transgender (adj.)
Use to describe people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified with at birth. Identify people as “transgender” only if pertinent, and use the name they prefer: Bob is a transgender man. Kristin is transgender. “Trans” is acceptable on second reference.

undocumented, illegal immigrant/alien
Do not use these terms to describe individuals who entered the U.S. without inspection or legal permission. When a story requires a person to be identified as such, follow these guidelines: Use “illegal” only in reference to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not an illegal immigrant or an illegal alien. An acceptable variation includes “living in (or entering) a country without legal permission.”

Contact Information


Stacey Himmelberger

315-859-4416 shimmelb@hamilton.edu
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