Inclusive Language

The Counseling and Wellness Center is committed to being an inclusive space for all students to receive mental health and wellness services.

We acknowledge inclusive language is critical in every interaction to validate the lived experiences of those we serve. We commit to being intentional with our words, responsive to individuals' preferences, and open to learning. 

What Is Inclusive Language?

The Linguistic Society of America defines inclusive language as language that "...acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities."

In practice, inclusive language is a powerful tool to affirm others' identities and promote mutual respect. Our words can create positive change,  dismantle general stereotypes, and let others know we're listening.

Things to Consider

Inclusive language can be put in practice when referencing identity-based groups (e.g., groups identified by race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, sex, country of origin, etc.)

There's no single way to be inclusive and the best way to be inclusive is to be flexible and responsive to others' preferences and lived experience. Language evolves and so does terminology.

Unsure how to refer to someone? Start by respectfully asking for terms. It's always best to avoid making assumptions.

Person First Language

When discussing a person, put the person before their identity. This helps retain the humanity of the person.

Instead of saying "Ethnic person," try saying "Person of color" or "Person who is multiracial."

Some individuals holding marginalized identities do not prefer person-first language and prefer other terms. It's always best to ask individuals and respect their preferences.

Mental Illness as an Insult or Verb

Avoid "crazy, insane, mentally ill" as an personal insult or way to describe different behavior. OCD, bipolar, and ADD are not behaviors, they are mental health conditions that people live with. Try not to use them as verbs to describe behavior. Instead, if you're discussing a person with a known mental illness, be specific about the diagnosis you know them to have.

Using Suicide for Exaggeration

When an exam is difficult or you feel like you may have failed an assignment, be honest about how bad that feels. Be specific with your words, but avoid exaggerating phrases like "I think I'll go kill myself now" as a joke.

Suicide is serious. You never know others' experiences with suicide and it can be triggering and alarming to hear suicide used jokingly.

If you are concerned about a friend or notice warning signs of suicide, it's important to get help right away. Help can be sought by immediately contacting the Counseling and Wellness Center, calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK), texting the Crisis Text Line (741741), or, if necessary, calling 911. Learn more about our suicide prevention services and resources.


Gender-Neutral Options

Many terms, especially those referring to professions with historic gender majorities, will imply gender. Try finding gender-neutral alternatives whenever possible. Gender-neutral terms allow all individuals, regardless of identity, to feel respected and comfortable.

Instead of saying "Office ladies," try saying "Office staff."

Learn more about LGBTQ+ Western's work to support students, faculty, and staff of all gender identities. 

Being Specific

Use language that is specific and accurate to the person/experiences you're describing. Avoid generalizations about groups of people or stereotypes.



The following are examples of phrases that perpetuate harmful stereotypes/generalities about marginalized groups next to suggestions for inclusive rephrasing. However, individuals who hold these identities may prefer other terms to what is listed below. Always respect others' preferences.

Avoid Using:

Instead Try:

Disabled person, handicapped, crippled

Person with a disability

Committed suicide Died by suicide


Person who uses a wheelchair



The homeless People experiencing homelessness
Inner city Under-resourced
Retarded/Mentally Disabled

Person with developmental delays or intellectual disabilities.

Be specific about diagnoses

Crazy, Insane, Psycho, Schizo

Person has a history of/is being treated for...

Be specific about diagnoses

Slave Person who was enslaved
Addict Person with a substance use disorder
Minority BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)
Acting OCD/Bipolar/ADD Acting particular/moody/distracted

Accessible Language

What Is Accessible Language?

Another way to be inclusive is by practicing accessible language. Using accessible language helps your thoughts be understood by more people.

Benefits Include:

  • Promotes access online
  • Supports access for individuals of all ages, reading levels, and speakers of English as a foreign language
  • Promotes ease of understanding

Define Abbreviations

Before using an abbreviation or acronym, make sure others understand what it represents.

Use Everyday Language

When possible, use plain and familiar words instead of technical terms or jargon. 

Focus on What's Important

Organize your thoughts to focus on important information first and avoid unrelated details. 

When Mistakes Happen

We're all human and that means we makes mistakes. It's important to use language to affirm others and be patient with ourselves as we’re bound to make mistakes.

We're also a part of a learning community with diverse perspectives. That's why it's important to show one another grace when we make mistakes and listen to individuals when they share their preferences.

Apologize Briefly

After a mistake, you can pause and quickly apologize before repeating the sentence. A quick "sorry" will do!

Correct Yourself

Repeat the sentence with the corrected word/pronoun/term.

Move On

Focusing on your mistake will often make the situation more awkward and discomfort worse for the individual. 

In the moment of a mistake, try not to draw unnecessary attention to your mistake. Afterward, you may choose to educate yourself or find events to respectfully learn more about an identity or experience.

If you're correcting a friend or classmate, let them know respectfully of their mistake without shaming them or making assumptions about what they should know. We all make mistakes.

While honest mistakes happen, repeatedly or intentionally mis-gendering someone or using verbal slurs is never okay and may constitute a bias incident. If you're unsure about a bias incident or would like to learn more about WWU's bias response, check out WWU's Structural Equity and Bias Response Team (SEBRT).