Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

How to Find Answers Outside Your DEI Comfort Zone

By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

In my last blog, I talked about some trends in the language used by news media on topics such as race and ethnicity. This time, I’ll talk about how we at JVA make decisions on language related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

In contrast to news organizations, JVA works explicitly to serve our diverse clients, at times drafting language for them (e.g., writing grants and reports). This requires that we have particular sensitivity to groups’ preferred terminology. We are working as their advocates. That’s why our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement spells out our commitment to do the following:

  • (Stay) current on the latest dialogues about appropriate terminology related to groups that are marginalized.
  • (Use) appropriate language when describing groups that are marginalized and their members in both written and spoken contexts, deferring to the individuals in question in cases of uncertainty.

Knowing what to say

Yes, it turns out that the best way to find out how people prefer to describe themselves is perhaps the simplest way: to ask them directly.

For example, JVA recently discussed whether or not to use the term “Latinx” in the grant proposals we write. (This came to my attention, in part, because NPR has begun using it.)

We read some articles (see these from The Washington Post, Time, Al Día and The Los Angeles Times if you’re interested), and we had some discussion. Ultimately, we realized that in most cases, we are able to defer to our clients’ preferences on whether to use Latinx, Latino/Latina, etc.—though preferences can vary from one organization to another.

Sometimes, though, it is impractical to determine a group’s preferred terminology—say, when there is a lack of consensus within an organization, or when the writer is referencing a subpopulation that the larger organization doesn’t necessarily specialize in serving. In these cases—and in general, for broader knowledge of the dialogue within the community being served—other sources can be useful.

The Diversity Style Guide

As JVA’s copyeditor, and with staff input, I have compiled guidance on some of the more common questions we face with terminology related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

One source that I frequently look to is The Diversity Style Guide. It’s a project of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, based at the Journalism Department at San Francisco State University. I really like this guide because it has been created through review of a dozen or so style guides by other, more specialized organizations that consider topics related to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference and identity, disability, mental health, age and more.

That makes it easy to do further research with the original source if I still have questions.

Like a traditional journalistic style guide, The Diversity Style Guide has an alphabetic listing of terms, both preferred and out of favor, along with explanations and references for further reading. It also has the same content organized by topic, which can be handy.

Conscious Style Guide

A more recent discovery for me, the Conscious Style Guide is organized by topic (ability, age, ethnicity, etc.) and contains links to perhaps hundreds of thoughtful articles on these topics, as well as to a few topic-specific style guides. The articles are a great way to get more context on debates you may have heard rumblings about, or to contemplate ideas about DEI that are totally new to you.

I like that the Conscious Style Guide includes a few categories that I might not have thought to include, such as socioeconomic status, health and appearance.

How does your organization make decisions on appropriate terminology? Do you have a process that engages your community, staff or board? How do you stay current? Send me an email; I’d love to hear your thoughts!