Glossary List

The following glossary provides the definition of the words or terms used throughout the modules. These definitions are adapted from University of British Columbia (UBC), Ontario Human Rights Code  and the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, “Racism and Power” (2018)/ “CARED Glossary” (2020).

These terms are crucial to the system of thought that works to combat individual, institutional and systemic inequities. This list is by no means exhaustive. Moreover, history has shown us that terminology tends to shift over time, particularly as marginalized groups and individuals are increasingly heard.


2SLGBTQ+: An acronym for Two-spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans (can be used for Transgender, Transsexual, Transitioning, Transman and Transwoman), Queer/Questioning +

Ability: capacity or power; cleverness, talent; mental power (natural athletic ability, has many abilities) (excerpt from Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

Ableism: discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities or who experience barriers to accessibility, such as those who identify as Deaf or neurodivergent, based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. Disclosing a disability can be stigmatizing. Disability, like other kinds of difference, is not well understood. People with disabilities or who experience barriers to accessibility face constant, daily barriers to participation in education, recreation, and employment.

Accessibility: a general term for the degree of ease that something (e.g., device, service, physical environment and information) can be accessed, used and enjoyed by persons with disabilities. The term implies conscious planning, design and/or effort to make sure something is barrier-free to persons with disabilities. Accessibility also benefits the general population, by making things more usable and practical for everyone, including older people and families with small children.

Accessible: does not have obstacles for people with disabilities – something that can be easily reached or obtained; facility that can be easily entered; information that is easy to access.

African Nova Scotian: With a history that spans more than 400 years, African Nova Scotians have unique historical migration pathways to Nova Scotia. The first large group of immigrants were the Black Loyalists who came as refugees after the American Revolution between 1782 and 1785. A group of 600 exiled Jamaican Maroons followed in 1796. Roughly 2000 Black Refugees seeking freedom arrived in Nova Scotia between 1813 and 1816 after the War of 1812. The early 1900s saw the last historic group of black settlers arrive in Nova Scotia as hundreds of Caribbean immigrants, known as the “later arrivals”, came to Cape Breton to work in the steel mills and coal mines.

Ageism: Discrimination based on age.

Ally:  A person of one social identity group who stands up in support of another group; typically a member of a dominant group standing beside a member(s) of a group being discriminated against or treated unjustly.

Anti-Black Racism: “Anti-Black racism is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and its legacy. Anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions, policies and practices, to the extent that anti-Black racism is either functionally normalized or rendered invisible to the larger White society. Anti-Black racism is manifest in the current social, economic, and political marginalization of African Canadians, which includes unequal opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, significant poverty rates and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system” ” (Gov’t of Ontario, “Glossary”).

Anti-Indigenous Racism: “Anti-Indigenous racism is the ongoing race-based discrimination, negative stereotyping, and injustice experienced by Indigenous Peoples within Canada. It includes ideas and practices that establish, maintain and perpetuate power imbalances, systemic barriers, and inequitable outcomes that stem from the legacy of colonial policies and practices in Canada. Systemic anti-Indigenous racism is evident in discriminatory federal policies such as the Indian Act and the residential school system. It is also manifest in the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in provincial criminal justice and child welfare systems, as well as inequitable outcomes in education, well-being, and health. Individual lived-experiences of anti-Indigenous racism can be seen in the rise in acts of hostility and violence directed at Indigenous people” (Gov’t of Ontario, “Glossary”).

Anti-oppression: an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism as well as the oppression and injustice racism causes.

Bias: a predisposition, prejudice or generalization about a group of persons based on personal characteristics or stereotypes.

Black: a social construct referring to people who have dark skin colour and/or other related racialized characteristics. The term has become less of an indicator of skin colour and more of racialized characteristics. Diverse societies apply different criteria to determine who is Black.

BIPOC: An acronym that stands for “Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.”  Some see the term as inclusive as it acknowledges that “POC” (People of Colour) alone does not accurately represent the disparate ongoing and historical experiences of both black and Indigenous people. On the other hand, some argue that using an all-encompassing term like “BIPOC” is lazy, homogeneous and a “product of colonialism” (Luger qtd. in Garcia).[1] The term can be used generally to represent the non-white experience, however, many “BIPOC” individuals agree that using specific language when referring to racialized groups or experiences is ideal.  Suggested Reading: Sandra E. Garcia’s article “Where Did BIPOC Come From?”

Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity matches the sex and/or gender they were assigned at birth.

Culture: ways of knowing and being. It goes much deeper than ethnicity, race, or faith and beyond surface expressions of culture like dress, food, and traditions. Culture is reflected in students’ multiple social identities and ways of knowing, learning, and being in the world. Culture is not monolithic or static; it is complex and tied to the intersectionality of identities that students have.

Culturally Responsive/Relevant Pedagogy and Practices (also CRP): a rich, intentional approach woven into every aspect of student learning; it identifies students’ assets and uses them to create rigorous, student-centered instruction. CRP is not about “cultural celebrations,” nor is it aligned with traditional ideas around multiculturalism. It involves careful acknowledgement, respect and an understanding of difference and its complexities.

Decolonization: active resistance against colonial powers, and a shifting of power towards political, economic, educational, and cultural independence and power that originate from a colonized nation’s own Indigenous culture. This process occurs politically and also applies to personal, societal, cultural, political, agricultural, and educational deconstruction of colonial oppression.

Disability: The word disability is very broad. It can refer to:

  • Physical disability
  • Cognitive disability
  • Sensory disability such as hearing or visual
  • Mental health-related disability
  • Learning disability
  • Intellectual disability
  • Neurological diversity such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD

There are different ways of looking at disability and barriers to accessibility. The social model of disability says disability is caused by the way society, supports, and the built environment are set up. The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences. It focuses on what’s wrong with the person, not what barriers the person faces.

Discrimination: treating someone unfairly by either imposing a burden on them, or denying them a privilege, benefit or opportunity enjoyed by others, because of their race, citizenship, family status, disability, sex or other personal characteristics (note: this is not a legal definition).

Diverse: of various kinds, forms, characters, etc.; varied.

Diversity: the presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes within an individual, group or organization. Diversity includes such factors as age, sex, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, religion, sexual orientation, educational background and expertise.

Dominant culture: In Canada, dominant culture results from patterns of learned behaviours and values that are shared among members of a group, and are transmitted to group members over time; these behaviours and values distinguish the members of one group from another. Even with the extent of racial and ethnic diversity in Canada, the prevailing cultural values are of Christian, European (Western) origin and are perceived as the norm.

Dominant narratives: stories told by the dominant culture to uphold and reinforce a dominant social group’s interests and ideologies. For example, if a student starts talking about fisheries disputes in Nova Scotia from the dominant narrative of white fishermen, this could create a hot button moment when it comes up against the counter-narrative that asserts Treaty rights and looks at how they are being violated. The danger of dominant narratives is that they are typically accepted as “truth”.

Economic Status: includes relating to the wealth of a community or nation (excerpt from Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

Equity: Fairness and impartiality. Equity is different from equality (equality means everyone gets the same thing: treatment, resources, support, etc.); equity recognizes that people may need different things to ensure their opportunities are the same as others’.

Equity-centered practices: to consider, incorporate, and make the most of students’ cultures, learning strengths, and accessibility requirements. These strengths-focused approaches build a foundation for all students to achieve equality in educational and life outcomes. They also build our individual and community capacity to dismantle systemic oppression and create a future with equity for all.

Equity-seeking groups: groups of people that experience oppression and exclusion from society, the economy, and education based on social, physical, cultural, religious, or personal characteristics. The terminology for these groups is constantly evolving. You might also see equity-seeking groups referenced as equity groups, equity-deserving groups, or equity-denied groups.

Ethnicity: The word “ethnic” is often used to denote non-dominant or less-powerful cultural identities in Canada. In Western Canada (e.g., Alberta), “ethnicity” is typically, and problematically racialized as non-white. However, communities of white people comprise ethnic communities (e.g., Irish Canadian).

Eurocentric: The tendency to view others through the filters and assumptions of European (primarily Northern European) perspectives, and to assume European practices and perspectives to be the best, the ideal, the norm. One need not be of European ancestry to be Eurocentric. A Eurocentric view considers history according to European experiences and paradigms (i.e., the assumption that history in Canada “began” with the arrival of Europeans).

Gender: A culturally specific set of characteristics that identify the social behaviour of individuals, the relationship between them, the way this relationship is socially constructed, and the way individuals are treated or viewed.

Gender identity is the sense of being female, male, both, neither, or somewhere along the gender spectrum.

Gender expression: How we act, dress and express our genders.

Generalizations: Generalizations are grand sweeping statements. Stereotypes are the most common hot button generalization. They are often rooted in the misconception that all members of a social identity group share common characteristics, views, or practices.

Heteronormativity: A frame of reference that positions heterosexuality as the default and assumes that a man/woman romantic or sexual pairing is the norm.

Homophobia: the irrational aversion to, fear or hatred of 2SLGBTQIA+ people and communities, or of behaviours stereotyped as “homosexual.”

“Hot button” moments: sneak up on us in the form of microaggressions, stereotypes, myths, personal attacks, generalizations, and the dominant narratives people bring with them into a conversation. Dominant narratives are stories told by the dominant culture to uphold and reinforce through repetition the dominant social group’s interests and ideologies. “Isms” like racism, ableism, and classism are rooted in these dominant narratives, which come to be accepted as objective truths. Hot button moments can provoke strong reactions and disagreements, and though we might not feel qualified to even take a position or have an opinion about some of these issues, we still need to do our best to facilitate a courageous conversation.

Implicit bias: (also sometimes called unconscious bias) refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. These biases include assumptions about other people that affect:

  • our expectations of them,
  • our assessment of their work or behaviour, and
  • our judgments about their characteristics as individuals or as a group.

Inclusion: can refer to the policy or practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources to people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Inclusion also requires us to challenge and dismantle systems of oppression, racism, and inequity to make a new and better space for everyone.

Inclusive design: taking into account differences among individuals and groups when designing something, to avoid creating barriers. Inclusive design can apply to systems, facilities, programs, policies, services, education, etc.

Inclusive teaching and learning: involves deliberately cultivating a learning environment where all students are treated equitably, have equal access to learning, and feel valued and supported in their learning. Such teaching attends to social identities and seeks to change the ways systemic inequities shape dynamics in teaching-learning spaces, affect individuals’ experiences of those spaces, and influence course and curriculum design.

Inclusive learning: involves deliberately cultivating a learning environment where all students are treated equitably, have equal access to learning, and feel valued and supported in their learning. Such teaching attends to social identities and seeks to change the ways systemic inequities shape dynamics in teaching-learning spaces, affect individuals’ experiences of those spaces, and influence course and curriculum design.

Indian Act: Canadian legislation first passed in 1876 and amended several times since, most recently in 1985. It sets out certain federal government obligations and regulates the management of reserve lands, Indian monies and other resources.

Indigenous: generally used in the international context, refers to peoples who are original to a particular land or territory. This term is very similar to “Aboriginal” and has a positive connotation.

Intergenerational: existing or occurring between different generations of people; involving more than one generation.

Intersectionality: a way of thinking about and understanding how we and our students are shaped and affected when our multiple identities interact and intersect within systems. It allows us to see people, groups, and social problems in the context of multiple discriminations and disadvantages.

Internalized oppression: is a concept in which an oppressed group uses the methods of the oppressing group against itself. It occurs when one group perceives an inequality of value relative to another group, and desires to be like the more highly valued group.

Marginalized groups: Marginalized groups or populations are communities that are systematically discriminated against and socially, politically, and economically excluded by the dominant group or culture.

Microaggressions: subtle forms of abuse that target people or groups through hostile, derogatory, or negative messages based on their group membership. Microaggressions can be based on any aspect of identity: socioeconomic status, ability, sex, gender, gender expression or identity, sexual orientation, racialized identity, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. They often constitute a pattern of behaviour, and the cumulative effects of these “small” attacks can be devastating.

Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaw (‘Meeg Mah’): The Indigenous peoples of Mi’kmaki. Mi’kmaw people have lived throughout Mi’kma’ki for over 10, 000 years. There are currently 13 Mi’kmaw communities, and over 16, 000 Mi’kmaw people, throughout Nova Scotia. Mi’kmaq is used as a plural term for the people. Mi’kmaw is the adjectival form and is also used for a single person….The language is also Mi’kmaw.”  (Mi’kmawe’l Tan Teli-kina’muemk: Teaching about the Mi’kmaq, The Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre)

Mi’kmaki: The traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq, which includes Nova Scotia, PEI and large parts of New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula, Newfoundland and part of Maine.

Nationality: the status of belonging to a particular nation; the condition of being national; distinctive national qualities; an ethnic group forming a part of one or more political nations; existence as a nation; nationhood; patriotic sentiment. (Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

Oppression: The systemic, institutionalized or individual subjugation of one individual or group by a more dominant individual or group; it can be overt or covert. Put simply, it is an abuse of power that is justified by the dominant groups’ explicit ideology. To uphold this unequal dynamic, physical, psychological, social, or economic threats or violence are often used. The term also refers to the injustices suffered by groups that have been marginalized in everyday interactions with members of the dominant group.

Patriarchy: The structure of a society in which men have power over women. The unequal power relations that exist between women and men permeate all realms of society – social, legal, political, religious, and economic – thereby systematically disadvantaging women as a whole. Men’s violence against women is a key element of patriarchal structure.

Persons with disabilities, Deaf persons and neurodivergent people, or those who experience barriers to accessibility: persons with one or more long-term or recurring disability (see disability).

Position: a place occupied by a person or thing; the way in which a thing or its parts are placed or arranged; a posture; proper place; state of being advantageously placed; an attitude or policy concerning a question or issue; a person’s situation in relation to others; rank or status; high social standing; paid employment (Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

Power: the ability to influence others and impose your beliefs. All power is relational, meaning you have power only in relationship to other people. Different relationships either reinforce or disrupt power. Discrimination, including racism, ableism, sexism, and homophobia, cannot be understood without accepting that power is both an individual relationship and a cultural one, and that power relationships are shifting constantly. Power is not always used malignantly and intentionally. Individuals in one culture often benefit from power over another or others they don’t even know they have.

Prejudice: to “prejudge” an individual or group, consciously or unconsciously, often without legitimate or sufficient evidence. Oftentimes, prejudices are not recognized as stereotypes or false assumptions and through repetition, become accepted as “common sense.” When backed with power, prejudice results in acts of discrimination and oppression against groups or individuals.

Privilege: A special advantage, right, or prerogative possessed by an individual or group. Privilege is often gained by birth or social position, but can also be acquired through effort and accomplishment.

Pronouns: How we want to be referred to: she/her, he/him, they/them, and more.

Race: There is no such thing as race – instead, it is a “social construct.” This means that society forms ideas of race based on geographic, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors, as well as physical traits, even though none of these can legitimately be used to classify groups of people. See Racialization.

Racialization: the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter and affect economic, political and social life.

Racial profiling: any action that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion or place of origin, or a combination of these, rather than on a reasonable suspicion to single out a person for greater scrutiny or different treatment.

Racism: stems from the belief, either conscious or unconscious, that one race is better than another (or than all others). This belief can result in acts of racism, such as racial discrimination at work, school, or in a healthcare setting. Although racism can happen between individuals, it also takes place on a systemic level. Racism is systemic, intentional, and a layered approach to dehumanize people.

Racialization: describes the processes by which a group of people is defined by their “race.” Put very simply, racializing people categorizes them according to their perceived “race” and imposes “racial character” on that group as a whole. This racial meaning is then attributed to people’s identity as they relate to social structures and institutional systems, including housing, healthcare, employment, and education. These stereotypes, biases, and prejudices are socially constructed and have no scientific or biological basis. Typically, a subordinate or oppressed group is racialized BY a dominant group in order to preserve the interests of that group.

Resilience: means using personal and collective strengths to protect ourselves and our communities in the face of great stressors and/or oppression and build a better future. It is the capacity of individuals and communities to build and recover their strength, spirit, and emotional well-being. Resistance — active and passive acts that fight back against oppression — is an important part of resilience.

Sexism: discrimination based on sex.

Sexual orientation (also sexual preference): Emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction we feel towards others.

Social identity: Identity is our image of ourselves and our beliefs about the kind of person we are. Examples of social identities are race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, abilities, and religion/religious beliefs.

Stereotype: incorrect assumption based on things like race, colour, ethnic origin, place of origin, religion, etc. Stereotyping typically involves attributing the same characteristics to all members of a group regardless of their individual differences. It is often based on misconceptions, incomplete information and/or false generalizations.

Student agency: is defined as the capacity to set a goal, reflect and act responsibly to effect change. It is about acting rather than being acted upon; shaping rather than being shaped; and making responsible decisions and choices rather than accepting those determined by others.

Student voice: In education, student voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of students. Voice can also mean the degree to which those values, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives are considered, included, listened to, and acted upon when important decisions are being made.

Supercharged topics: the topics you know without a doubt will provoke debate and elicit strong emotional reactions. While these reliably controversial topics do require careful preparation, they have the advantage of being predictably difficult — so you can be ready to responsibly and effectively facilitate the conversation.

Systemic barrier: a barrier embedded in the social or administrative structures of an organization, including the physical accessibility of an organization, organizational policies, practices and decision-making processes, or the culture of an organization. These may appear neutral on the surface but exclude members of groups protected by the Human Rights Code.

Systemic oppression: a series of barriers that disadvantage particular groups of people based on race, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ability, age, and more. Systemic oppression is often made invisible to those who don’t experience it. It is embedded in social norms and formal institutions such as the police, law, education, and health systems.

Systemic/Institutional racism: racism that consists of policies and practices, entrenched in established institutions, that result in the exclusion or advancement of specific groups of people. It manifests itself in two ways: (1) institutional racism: racial discrimination that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are prejudiced or of a prejudiced society; (2) structural racism: inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major social institutions.

Systems of Oppression: The term “systems of oppression” helps us better identify inequity by calling attention to historical and organized patterns of marginalization, abuse, and exploitation. In Canada, systems of oppression (like systemic racism) are woven into the very foundation of Canadian culture, society, and laws. Other examples of systems of oppression include but are not limited to sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and anti-Semitism. Society’s institutions, such as government, education, health, and culture, all contribute to or reinforce the oppression of social groups that have been marginalized while elevating dominant social groups.

Transgender: having an identify which does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, esp. undergoing or having undergone sex change procedures (excerpt from Canadian Oxford Dictionary) Sometimes shortened to “trans,” the term refers to people whose gender identity is different from the social expectations for the physical sex they were assigned at birth. It is important to note the difference between biological sex (genitals, chromosomes) and social gender (perceptions and ideologies about masculine and femininity). (The CARED Collective)

Transexual: Transexual refers to a person who identifies as the opposite sex they were assigned at birth. A transexual indidivudal may undergo medical treatment to change their physical sex to match their sex identity (throughout hormone treatments and/or surgery). Not all transexual individual can have, or desire, this treatment (The CARED Collective)

Two-Spirit: according to ancient teachings, “two-spirited” people were considered gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits: that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Today, the term refers to Aboriginal people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered, other gendered, third/fourth gendered individuals that walk carefully between the worlds and between the genders.

Universal Design for Learning (also UDL) is an approach to improve and optimize teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. UDL is an evidence-based educational framework based on research in the learning sciences.

White Fragility: “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress … White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable [for white people], triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” (The CARED Collective).

White supremacy: the racist belief that people who see themselves as white are superior to Black, Indigenous, and people of colour and should therefore dominate them. White supremacy perpetuates and maintains social, political, historical, and institutional domination by white people. For example, white supremacy justified the transatlantic slave trade and colonization around the world. Today, it is used to justify entrenched systemic and institutional racism. White supremacy also refers to the political and socio-economic systems that give white people structural advantages over racialized people — both collectively and individually.


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Transforming Practice: Learning Equity, Learning Excellence Copyright © 2022 by Social Equity Working Group Curriculum Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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