Equal treatment through language does not only take place in relation to gender, but also in relation to further categories of diversity and inequality, which also play a role at university. Here too it is important to avoid discriminatory expressions and terms which are historically linked to colonial or Nazi history, and instead to employ valorizing and inclusive language.
Here are a few suggestions on how to speak and prepare course material in a diversity conscious way:
If you are unsure of how to designate or describe certain people or social groups, it is better to use the terms used by organizations and advocacy groups instead of external designations (Fremdbezeichnung). Many advocacy groups and associations offer guidelines and advice on language and how to use it.
There are texts and handouts with background information, explanations on common self-denominations, and further tips on a diversity conscious use of language, for example in the context of racism, disability, gender identity and transgender themes.
When talking and writing about marginalized groups, one or the other feature is often singled out, thus neglecting the manifold aspects of people as well as the heterogeneity of the respective groups.
For this reason, in German it has become customary to talk about “Menschen mit Behinderung” (person with a disability) instead of “Behinderten” (a ‘Disabled’, nominalized adjective). At the Toolbox we have chosen to write “BeHinderung” (disAbility) with a capital H, aligning ourselves with the concept that the capital letter serves to highlight the fact that it is through socially constructed obstacles that it is made more difficult for certain people to participate: they are then made disabled.
Instead of focusing on disabilities, people’s competences and abilities can be brought to the fore by avoiding sentences that present disability as a stroke of fate. For example, instead of “despite”-sentences or presenting someone as a victim, disability can be thematized as one of many aspects of a person instead of the only determining factor for their personality.
The contributions of people belonging to marginalized groups as well as the causes for discrimination are often rendered invisible through what seems at first glance like a neutral and unspecific representation. For this reason, try to explicitly name acting subjects, interests and existing conflicts.
You can also make authorship clear by including the first names of authors in bibliographies.
Terms change with time. Words that used to be used by many people only a few years ago are now recognized as being discriminatory and can be avoided. Belittling, clichéd, exoticizing or discriminatory terms are such examples. Alternatives exist for many discriminatory terms. Discriminatory ideas and unnecessary sentences can be left out.
Think about what exactly it is you want to say, and what wording your need for this.
Examples of German sentences that bring the abilities of people to the fore instead of being disparaging:
Language itself can constitute a barrier, for example if the language used is not someone’s first language or if a disability requires a specific use of language. Here too it is difficult to give general advice, since the needs and scope for action can be very different. Some aspects can however be implemented in all lessons:
Academia uses specific field related terminology, and one of the important aims of studying is to learn and assimilate these terms and how to use them correctly. However, especially when speaking, try to avoid unnecessarily long sentences, and remember to repeat important points and to transmit content in simple sentences. Even when explaining organizational points such as registration and examination procedures, this can be very helpful for many students, and will also reduce misunderstandings and questions.