Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Diversity and Inclusion

Glossary

To better understand and pursue a diverse and inclusive academic community, we need to first have a common understanding of related terms and concepts. Following are definitions of key terms.

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Glossary

Culture

Culture is often described as the combination of a body of knowledge, a body of belief and a body of behavior. It involves a number of elements, including personal identification, language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions that are often specific to ethnic, racial, religious, geographic, or social groups. For the provider of health information or health care, these elements influence beliefs and belief systems surrounding health, healing, wellness, illness, disease, and delivery of health services.

Cultural Competency

Cultural Competency has a positive effect on patient care delivery by enabling providers to deliver services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients.

Diversity

Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. Source.

Health Disparity

Healthy People 2020 defines a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2020. Phase I report: Recommendations for the framework and format of Healthy People 2020 [Internet]. Section IV: Advisory Committee findings and recommendations [cited 2010 January 6].

Health Equity

Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities. The National Plan for Action Draft as of February 17, 2010 [Internet]. Chapter 1: Introduction.

Implicit Bias

Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it. The mind sciences have found that most of our actions occur without our conscious thoughts, allowing us to function in our extraordinarily complex world. This means, however, that our implicit biases often predict how we’ll behave more accurately than our conscious values. Multiple studies have also found that those with higher implicit bias levels against black people are more likely to categorize non-weapons as weapons (such as a phone for a gun, or a comb for a knife), and in computer simulations are more likely to shoot an unarmed person. Similarly, white physicians who implicitly associated black patients with being “less cooperative” were less likely to refer black patients with acute coronary symptoms for thrombolysis for specific medical care. Learn more from the Perception Institute.

Intersectionality

A theoretical framework positing that multiple dimensions of identity create synergistic interactions at micro and macro sociological scales. An intersectional approach to situation considers multiple viewpoints of different races, genders, social classes, sexes, nationalities, ethnicities, and other socially constructed categories of identity and how the intersection of these views contribute to observable outcomes and behaviors. The term was coined by Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and is widely used as a framework to study social inequity. In the context of health, an intersectional approach allows physicians to view the health of patients as a composite of biologically observable phenomena and the affecting, social circumstances surrounding the problem's origin and solutions. Consideration of multiple facets of identity is an integral part of public, community, and global health in the modern world.

Microaggression

The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

Learn more about racial microagressions.

Racism

The belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another. Source: The Anti-Defamation League

Safe Space

A place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability. A Safe Space where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.

Source: Safe Space Network.

Stereotyping

“...a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell, 1996). One advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before. One disadvantage is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals; therefore we think things about people that might not be true (i.e. make generalizations). The use of stereotypes is a major way in which we simplify our social world; since they reduce the amount of processing (i.e. thinking) we have to do when we meet a new person. By stereotyping we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have. Stereotypes lead to social categorization, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups.

Source: Cardwell, M. (1996). Dictionary of Psychology. Chicago IL: Fitzroy Dearborn.