University of Wisconsin–Madison


Shared Language

Shared, common language provides a clear focus, vision and understanding of our work. Language is a source of power and is a critical foundational element in how we, collectively, communicate with each other to advance equity, inclusion and employee well-being.

To ensure that there is a shared understanding of language as we engage in our individual and collective work in this space, provided below is a glossary of critical terms that will be referenced throughout the website and are central to the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Employee Well-Being’s approach to this work.

These definitions are intended to provide a shared entry point for ongoing conversation, ongoing learning and shared accountability.

“Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals. Some of my most consequential steps toward being an antiracist have been the moments when I arrived at basic definitions. To be an antiracist is to set lucid definitions of racism/antiracism, racist/antiracist policies, racist/antiracist ideas, racist/antiracist people. To be a racist is to constantly redefine racist in a way that exonerates one’s changing policies, ideas, and personhood.” Ibram Kendi



The fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all people within an organization or system. It reflects processes and practices that acknowledge that we live in a world where everyone has not been afforded the same resources and treatment, while also working to remedy this fact. “Equity” is often incorrectly conflated with the term “equality,”’ which means sameness; this conflation incorrectly assumes that we all have equal access, and experience equal treatment and outcomes. Equity implies that individuals or groups may need to experience or receive something different (not equal) to maintain fairness and access. (Adapted from Brandeis University, Social Justice Definitions)


Unfair, unnecessary and/or avoidable differences in outcome(s) of a population or group that are systemic and patterned. Inequities are often rooted in historical, social, economic, demographic and/or geographic differences.


The range of human qualities that affect how people think, feel, and behave in the world, in addition to how others perceive them. These qualities include, but are not limited to, age, gender, race, ethnicity, color, physical attributes, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, marital status, national origin, education, and work-related values. (From HR Design, UW–Madison)


The external conditions (policies, environments, interactions), which are created and cultivated, that result in an individual’s sense of belonging. It means being respected and valued as a contributing and engaged member of the team, work group or organization. An inclusive culture is one in which barriers to contribution and negative biases are eliminated, and people are respected and able to give their personal best. (Adapted from HR Design, UW-Madison)


The human need and feeling of support from and connectedness to a larger community.

Belonging is the capacity to see the humanity in those that are not like us and to recognize that the same elements that exist within them also exist within us. (From Four Pivots by Shawn Ginwright, p. 15)

When we are wounded from not belonging, our sacred connections are severed, and we are cut off from the power of human connection. In order for leaders to form durable transformative relationships, healing from not belonging is one of the most important first steps. (Ginwright, p. 95)

Social justice

A process, framework, 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. Social justice involves social actors who demonstrate a sense of agency and a sense of responsibility for their society, and the broader world in which we live. Social justice requires action. (Adapted from the Office of Inclusion Education, UW-Madison)


Power is unequally distributed globally and in the U.S.; some individuals or groups wield greater power than others, thereby allowing them greater access and control over resources. Wealth, whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism and education are a few social mechanisms through which power operates. There are many variations of power. Power over is used to minimize and oppress differences (e.g., at the level of individuals, groups and systems), and to create norms and structures that confer unearned privilege to select individuals who embody certain characteristics. Power with is used to cultivate inclusive ideology and practices by transforming the norms and structures that disadvantage certain differences. Learning to recognize and understand relations of power is vital to social justice and change.

All power is relational, and the different relationships either reinforce or disrupt one another. The importance of the concept of power is clear: racism cannot be understood without understanding that power is not only an individual relationship but a cultural one, and that power relationships are shifting constantly. Power can be used intentionally and power can induce harm, but it need not be. Individuals within a culture may benefit from power of which they are unaware. (Adapted from and Kolan and Sullivan TwoTrees (2014) Privilege as Practice)

Employee experience

The sum total of all the interactions an employee has with their employer, from the time of being an active or passive candidate for a position, to becoming an alumnus.

Employee engagement

Employees feel valued by the university, and they find pride and personal meaning in their work. Employee engagement is an outcome of equity and inclusion.



A social construct; it is not biological. Race is a human-invented classification system that was created to define physical differences between people, but has more often been used as a tool for oppression and violence. (From Center for Health Progress)

Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include and exclude. Race markers use that power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races. (From How to be Antiracist by Ibram Kendi, p. 38)

Racial identity

Internally constructed through an individual’s awareness and experience of being a member of a racial group. The racial categories that an individual chooses to describe themselves include factors such as heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation or upbringing, early socialization, and personal experience. Racial identity can also be externally imposed by how others may perceive you. (From National Museum of African American History & Culture)

Racial equity

Conditions, processes, and practices that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. Racial equity is a component of racial justice, which can include elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race. (Adapted from Racial Equity Tools,

Racial justice

The systemic, fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities; it is also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures. (Adapted from the National Education Association)


Not simply racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequity. (From How to be Antiracist by Ibram Kendi, p. 17-18)

Systemic racism

A complex sociopolitical system of public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms that work in various ways, by which racism and racial inequity is developed, maintained, perpetuated, and protected. (Adapted from


The act of opposing racism and white supremacy in all forms—even the racism that exists within you and the forms you perpetuate with your behaviors. It is about identifying the root causes of racism and putting an end to them. Activism without antiracism is merely white saviorism by another name. No good deed as an activist will remove your responsibilities in antiracism. (From “The Antiracism Starter Kit – A Where Change Started Action Guide”)

Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas. (From How to be Antiracist by Ibram Kendi, p. 20)


Anti-Blackness is defined as the beliefs, attitudes, actions, practices, and behaviors of individuals and institutions that devalue, minimize, and marginalize the full participation of Black people — individuals who are visibly (or perceived to be) of African descent. Anti-Blackness is the systematic denial of Black humanity and dignity, which makes Black people effectively ineligible for full citizenship. The anti-Blackness paradigm positions Blackness as inherently problematic, rather than recognizing the long, rich, and diverse history of Black people throughout the African diaspora, and acknowledging that Black communities across the United States (and the world) have been severely disadvantaged as a result of historical and contemporary systemic racism. (from the Antibiogotry Symposium, hosted by the Boston University (BU) Center for Antiracist Research)

White supremacy culture

White supremacy culture is a historically constructed way of being, knowing and acting which expresses, justifies and binds together the idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to people of color and their thoughts, beliefs and actions. (Adapted from 



A process and a journey of building accountable and authentic relationships, facing conflict and resolution, and transforming ways we work together. (Adapted from the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective)

Health equity

Everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthier. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care. In short, health equity can be understood not just as the absence of inequity but rather a fair, just distribution of the resources and opportunities needed to achieve well-being. (From Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

Health promotion

The process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. (From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,


Well-being is an optimal and dynamic state that fosters equity, justice, and safety, in addition to individual and community health. This includes three interdependent types of well-being: 1) individual, 2) interpersonal, and 3) community.

  • Individual well-being is framed by three broad, interconnected categories: (a) individual goals and aspirations, (b) individual human rights and needs being equitably met, and (c) individual contribution to and relationship with the community.
  • Interpersonal well-being refers to healthy relationships between oneself and others to create positive networks, support systems and communities.
  • Community well-being is framed by a shared, interconnected understanding of who we are as humans, our relationships with each other, and the spaces and communities with which we engage. Well-being is a holistic and multidimensional journey. It is a shared responsibility of the entire institution. (Adapted from NIRSA/NASPA/ACHA Interassociation)

Individual trauma

Results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening, with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being. (From Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA))

Intergenerational trauma

A term used to describe the impact of a traumatic experience, not only within or on one generation, but on subsequent generations over time. Intergenerational trauma can show up in biological, social, mental and emotional ways.


Individual care

Focuses on concern for self. Individual care is a result of individualism and the notion that we are separate from others. At the individual level, care is about the preservation of one’s own desires [and needs] and is focused on what one wants to do. (From Four Pivots by Shawn Ginwright, p. 123)

Interpersonal care

Focuses on the care we take in our relationship with others. This requires a level of awareness of how our well-being is interconnected. Interpersonal care has a strong emphasis on ethics of care like responsibility, commitment and selflessness and is shaped by our efforts to sustain transformative relationships. (From Four Pivots by Shawn Ginwright, p. 123-124)

Collective care

Collective (institutional) care is a social contract (laws, policies, rules) that assures the well-being of everyone in the institution or society. Collective care is forged by both values and rules that focus on the collective good rather than individual rights. (From Four Pivots by Shawn Ginwright, p. 125)

Trauma-informed care

Broadly refers to a set of principles that guide and direct how we view the impact of severe harm on people’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Trauma-informed care encourages support and treatment to the whole person, rather than focusing on only treating individual symptoms or specific behaviors. (From “Shifting from Trauma-Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement” by Shawn Ginwright)

This term runs the risk of focusing on the treatment of pathology (trauma), rather than fostering the possibility (well-being).

Healing justice

A framework and/or strategy to address collective harm, trauma, and systemic oppression to sustain our emotional, physical, spiritual and environmental well-being. (Adapted from Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective,

Transformative justice

A framework and/or strategy that promotes safety and reduces harm by eliminating conditions that allow violence and/or oppressive dynamics, systems, or relationships. (Adapted from

Whole-body approach

This approach to equity and well-being takes into account all aspects of our life and lived experiences — how these experiences are filtered through our social identities, how these experiences are impacted by land, space and colonization, and ultimately how these experiences manifest in and impact our physical health and bodies.

Whole-person approach

This approach is deliberately focused on the whole person through acknowledging whole-body approaches along with a person’s story and relationships. Every person is a rich mix of physical (body) and subjective (the story) dimensions. The subjective dimension can include mind, consciousness, personal story, relationships, family history, feelings and emotions, culture, gender, spirituality, personal trauma, sense of place, community and much more. The physical and subjective are inherently connected. We are inherently connected to other people and the places we inhabit; we are always in relationship to one another and our surroundings.

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