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Defining Diversity and Inclusion

As is true for many things, there is a lexicon of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The following are commonly used terms used on this site, job announcements, recruitment materials, faculty evaluation documents (e.g., annual evaluation and promotion and tenure), and other locations. These descriptions are designed to help faculty, staff, administrators, students, and applicants have a shared understanding of these terms. It is hoped that this will help applicants for faculty, staff, and administrator positions in IANR, and candidates for promotion and tenure to describe their experience with and contributions to inclusive excellence.


The constellation of differences that exist among people. Diversity, in this context, refers to the group and not an individual. So, for example, in conducting a search for a faculty or staff position, rather than referring to a “diverse candidate”, it would be more accurate to say that this candidate contributes to the diversity of the group, or would contribute to the diversity among the faculty and/or staff. While it is common to focus on the characteristics of diversity that can be seen (e.g., phenotype characteristics such as skin color, facial features, and sex), the characteristics of diversity that can’t be seen are much greater, and richer, than the characteristics that can be seen. The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) describes diversity as “individual differences (e.g., personality, prior knowledge, and life experiences) and group/social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations).” (


Being fair or impartial. When equity exists, all people, regardless of race, sex, gender, heritage, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc., are given the same opportunities and have the same access to programs and services as anyone else. To understand equity, one must recognize that some groups have greater or fewer opportunities and more or less access than others because of things that are outside of their control. For example, someone whose parents have financial means and who grows up in a neighborhood where other families are financially well-off has greater access to educational and other opportunities than someone who grows up in poverty. Greater opportunity for success has nothing to do with innate capacity to succeed. The terms achievement gap and opportunity gap refer to these inequities. When the quality of being fair and impartial is in play, one is intentional in closing the achievement and opportunity gaps. This may mean that in order for IANR to achieve equity, opportunities for access and achievement are created and made available to groups underrepresented at the university or in its programs. The AACU defines equity as: “The creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented populations to have equal access to and participate in educational programs that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion.” ( While equity refers to equal access as stated in this definition, it also refers to equal opportunities and equal outcomes.


This can refer to either an action or a state related to being included in a group, program, function, or opportunity. Achieving inclusion requires the intentional use of strategies designed to accomplish that goal. These strategies include those that lead to an active valuing of diversity and pursuit of equity. An inclusive environment is one where each person values the contributions of others and where every person feels that they are valued for their contributions. Inclusion means that every person and every interaction matters. The AACU indicates that inclusion is “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.” (

Inclusive Excellence

When diversity, equity, and inclusion are all present, the result is inclusive excellence. Those who value diversity and equity, and strive for inclusion in all aspects of their lives can be said to have an inclusive excellence mindset.

Welcoming Environment

This refers to an environment in which people feel like others what to have them there.

Sense of Belonging

A perception or feeling that one is a part of a group. Belonging is a basic emotional need. People have an inherent need to feel like they are part of a group. This helps them to feel socially and emotionally connected to something that is bigger than themselves. Belonging is important to individual and group identity. When someone has a sense of belonging, they feel that they have a connection with the people in the group that is greater than familiarity or simple acquaintance.


The preferencing of something over something else. We all have bias, and always will. While bias often carries a negative connotation, bias isn’t inherently bad. For example, one might prefer spending time with family to spending time with friends, or spending time in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA to someplace else. Bias, as it relates to diversity and inclusion, has a negative effect when it influences decision-making in a way that gives advantage to some individuals, groups, or courses of action and/or gives disadvantage to others. There are two types of bias that are relevant in the diversity and inclusion space: structural bias and cognitive bias.

Structural bias

Societal patterns or practices that confer advantage to some people and disadvantage to others. These are often patterns or practices that have developed over time and become part of the mores of a society or community. Statements such as “that’s just how things are done” often point to structural bias. Sometimes policies, procedures, laws, and regulations can institutionalize advantage and disadvantage. When this happens it is referred to as institutional bias. Institutional bias can increase or decrease access to programs, services, and opportunities for education or jobs. It can affect who makes a short-list for a job and who gets promoted, or student, faculty, and staff retention; student graduation rates, and many other things.

Cognitive bias

This refers to those mental categories and mental schemas that help us make sense of the world, and that result in stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs that confer advantage to some and disadvantage to others. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, it is cognitive bias that allows us to do that. A gut feeling about someone or something, either positive or negative, is an attitude that points to cognitive bias. When we make an association between a trait (e.g., secondary sex characteristics) and a group/mental category (e.g., gender) the result is a stereotype. Attitudes and stereotypes are not inherently bad; they help us make sense of the world. They do, however, result in bias that influences decision-making, the results of which that can either wittingly or unwittingly provide opportunity or restrict opportunity, confer advantage or disadvantage, etc. Cognitive bias can be either explicit or implicit.

Explicit bias

Cognitive bias that occurs within a person’s conscious awareness. As an example, a researcher may consider research coming out of a particular lab or from a particular university (e.g., their alma mater) as superior to others because of the person’s history with that lab or university or because of the reputation of that lab or university. This preference (bias) is in the person’s cognitive awareness. While there are many benefits to having this bias, the bias may limit the person’s ability to see the high quality research and advancements that may be coming from other places.

Implicit bias

Cognitive bias that is outside of a person’s conscious awareness. Implicit bias functions in the subconscious. This means that the person isn’t aware that it is operating until they bump up against something that helps bring it into their conscious awareness. Implicit bias is shaped by the person’s own experience with the world and by the experiences of others conveyed through messages about the world that are archived in the subconscious mind and that help form mental schemas/mental categories. As it relates to diversity and inclusion, people have subconscious mental schemas about all aspects of diversity, including race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, etc. Implicit bias is activated by stimuli in the environment. Although it is subconscious, it has a great deal of influence on person’s interactions with the world and on decision-making. For example, a person’s experience with people of cultures and countries other than their own can result in implicit bias informed by those experiences (or lack thereof). Consequently, although consciously they may want to be welcoming and inclusive, they may actually say or do things that convey just the opposite. Or, they may interpret behaviors that are designed to be welcoming and inclusive as something other than that.

Blind Spots

Refers to what we don’t see because of implicit bias. We are inundated with so many pieces of information every minute that we can’t process everything. Our minds help us by focusing on certain pieces of information and overlooking others. It is bias, both explicit and implicit, that determines what information we focus on and what information we screen out and consequently don’t see without intentionally looking within that space. Although what is contained within a blind spot is hidden from us, it still influences decision-making although subconsciously. When decision-making is about people or situations that affect people, what is in our blind spots could result in decisions that unwittingly lead to discrimination and inequities, and/or messages that could work against our goal of nurturing welcoming and inclusive environments.


Differentiating between people on the basis of group membership rather than individual merit, resulting in unequal treatment and opportunity.

Equal Employment Opportunity

The right of each person to apply and be evaluated for employment opportunities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or disability. It guarantees everyone the right to be considered solely on the basis of his/her ability to perform the duties of the job in question, with or without reasonable accommodations.

Affirmative Action

A legal mandate requiring that aggressive efforts be utilized to employ and advance women and minorities in areas where they are employed in fewer numbers than is consistent with their availability in the relevant labor market. While the State of Nebraska does not have this legal mandate, IANR’s objective is to employ and promote the person who will contribute the most to the job. This includes not only their professional and personal skills and abilities but also their ability to contribute to the diversity of the whole and to increase the opportunities for groups who are underrepresented in the disciplines reflected in IANR. Where candidates for a position appear to be equally well-qualified, the person selected should be the one who will contribute to these goals.

USDA/NIFA Civil Rights Review

The USDA/NIFA requires that all universities accepting federal funding through the Hatch (research) and/or Smith-Lever (Cooperative Extension) funding mechanisms go through a periodic review of their policies and practices related to diversity and inclusion. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s last Civil Rights Review occurred in 2013. The following terms are specific to that review.


When the participation rate in Extension programming of historically underrepresented and underserved populations reflects proportionately with their incidence in the general population of the geographic area being served.


An Extension program is in compliance with participation requirements of the Civil Rights Laws and Regulations when the participation rate of new, diverse, and historically underserved audiences has reached 100% of parity.

Potential Audience/Recipients

Potential audience and recipients of Extension programming are persons or groups within a defined geographic area (county/region) who might be interested in or benefit from an Extension educational program. Potential audience and recipients are estimated for each Extension program by using a combination of census demographic data as well as other knowledge and information about the population of the geographic area being served. When a target audience is defined during program planning, attention is given to be inclusive of the entire potential recipients, as defined by the demographic data and other information.

All Reasonable Effort

Extension must be able to demonstrate that its federally funded programs, services, and activities have been made available to the maximum possible potential audience of a given geographic area. This process entails at least the following activities: a) The use of all available mass media, including radio, television, and newspapers to inform potential recipients of the program and of the opportunity to participate; b) Sending personal letters, e-mail, social media, flyers, and publications, targeted at potential recipients and inviting them to participate, including dates and places of meetings or other planned activities; and c) Personal visits to a representative number of potential recipients in the geographically defined area to encourage them to participate.

Adequate Public Notification

Extension programs should utilize the most diversified means of communication available in order to attract persons of all races, colors, religions, sexes, national origins, and abilities to participate in its programs. Examples include posters, flyers, stuffers, public mailings, bulletin boards, etc. Additionally, all publications should contain the University’s Equal Opportunity Statement and the Extension office environment should visibly display Equal Opportunity posters such as the And Justice for All. Notices of meetings should include the ADA statement.