Race and Ethnicity

General Guidelines

Race and ethnicity are not the same. Race is a social construct that has historically been used to classify human beings according to physical or biological characteristics. Ethnicity is something a person acquires or ascribes to and refers to a shared culture, such as language, practices and beliefs.

Consider carefully when deciding to identify a person by race. Often, it is an irrelevant factor and drawing unnecessary attention to someone’s race or ethnicity can be interpreted as bigotry. Use AP Stylebook guidance for examples of when race is pertinent.

Always avoid stereotypes, and place the humanity and leadership of people of color at the center. Ensure that headlines, images, captions and graphics are fair and responsible in their depiction of people of color and coverage of issues. Use a multiracial lens and consider all communities of color.

Use racial and ethnic identification when it is pertinent to a story and use it fairly, identifying white individuals if people of other races/ethnicities are identified.

** Source: Race Forward

Terms to Avoid

Do not use the term "colored person/people." Use a broader term, like "people of color," which refers to any person who is not white, especially in the U.S. You may see this referenced as "POC." This acronym may be used, but only after the phrase it stands for (i.e., people of color) is shared on first use.

In general, no racial or ethnic slur should ever be included in what you write. 

African American, Black

African American and Black are not synonymous. If you are including someone's race in the content you're creating, be sure it is necessary to mention it and ask the person how they prefer to be identified. A person may identify as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean, for instance, or Haitian American or Jamaican American.

GVSU follows the Associated Press decision to capitalize the b in Black.

  • African American is not hyphenated. Never use the word colored or Negros. Afro American also should not be used.
  • Lastly, it is preferred to use Black people and not Blacks to refer to a group.

Asian, Asian American

When writing about someone or a group of this background, ask the person how they prefer to be referred to. Specifically, if it makes more sense to refer to a specific background — e.g., Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino — use that term rather than a collective noun.

Asian American and Pacific Islanders and related terms (no hyphen):

  • Refer to a person's specific background—e.g., Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino. Use that term rather than a collective noun.
  • Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA): This is the preferred term to use, versus Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), or Asian American and Pacific Americans.
  • South Asian: This collective term refers to people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Desi American is a term commonly used by people from India, but not by all South Asians.

Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, Latin@, Chicano/a

Federal policy defines Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

Latinx is increasingly used and is often the preferred term, unless the individual or people discussed prefer another term.

While it is common to see Hispanic and Latinx/Latino/a used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Hispanic generally refers to people with origins in Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx/Latino/a generally refer to people with origins in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most Hispanics also identify as Latinx/Latino/a and vice versa. Generally, people from Brazil or Haiti do not identify as Hispanic, but may identify as Latinx/Latino/a.

Latina(s) is appropriate for individuals who identify as a woman/women, unless the person/people prefer Latinx.

Chicano/a is a term that refers to Americans of Mexican ancestry.

Terms to avoid

• Illegal immigrant, alien, illegals (preferred term: undocumented immigrant)

• Illegal worker (preferred term: undocumented worker)

• Expat, expatriate

Undocumented, DACA

Undocumented immigrant/worker: Refers to people who do not have the federal documentation to show they are legally entitled to work, visit or live in the United States

Mixed-status couple/family: Refers to couples or families with members who have different immigration status. 

Refugee: Refers to people who have been forced to leave their country or origin to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Note: Refugee is a status that is granted by the receiving country and it does not apply to all people who have been forced to leave.

Asylum seeker: Refers to people who are seeking international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined.

DREAM Act or Dreamer: The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act is Congressional legislation that would allow young immigrants in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria. The legislation has not been approved by Congress, despite various versions being introduced over the years. The DREAM Act is similar to, but not the same as, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Many refer to immigrants who would benefit from either program as Dreamers. As often as possible, use other terms such as immigrant, youth, or the person’s name instead of Dreamer. If using the term Dreamer to describe a person, be sure that is the way they prefer to be described and that you have their explicit permission.

** Source: Diversity Style Guide Immigration Glossary, also check Common Immigration Terms


International Students

The university is proud of its international students, who have chosen to travel great distances to receive their education at Grand Valley.

Identifying a student as an international student should be done only when the designation is relevant to the content. If such identification is not relevant, the student should be identified in the same way as domestic students featured in the content. Do not assume, for example, that all Asian students are international students, or assume that all international students come from Asia.

Native People, Indigenous People

American Indian, Alaska Native, Hawaiian Native, Native American, Native People, Indigenous People
The most inclusive and accurate term to use to refer to those who inhabited land that became the United States (or, previously, territories) is: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN).

You may also see the terms:

  • ​​​Native People(s)
  • First People(s)
  • First Nations
  • Tribal Peoples
  • Tribal Communities
  • Indigenous People(s)

Always ask someone how they prefer to be identified, including Hawaiian Natives. The person may prefer that you refer to them by their tribally specific nation. If a tribal name is used, ask for a phonetic spelling of the name.

American Indians and Alaska Natives/Hawaiian Natives have a distinct political and cultural identification constructed in and through treaties, executive orders and the Constitution. American Indian and Alaska Native/Hawaiian Natives' cultural identification is place-based, diverse, and informed by the practices of their culture (e.g., language, singing, dancing, ceremonies).


Land acknowledgement
The GVSU Native American Advisory Council (NAAC) has the following statement for land acknowledgement:

We would like to recognize the People of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples on whose land we are gathered. The Three Fires People are indigenous to this land which means that this is their ancestral territory. Every university is built on stolen, native land. We are guests on their land and one way to practice right relations is to develop genuine ways to acknowledge the histories and traditions of the people who originated here first, who are still here, and who tend to the land always. As we make this land acknowledgment we know it is but an important first step, and that there are many more that we need to take when we decide to engage in the important work of social justice.

Page last modified July 21, 2022