Important Definitions


The innate human need to belong is critical to the biological, social, and psychological wellbeing of people and a critical factor in the engagement, retention, and success of students, faculty, and staff on college campuses. It refers to, “the extent to which individuals feel like a valued, accepted, and legitimate member in their academic domain” (Lewis, Stout, Pollock, Finkelstein, & Ito, 2016).


Individual differences, (e.g., personality, prior knowledge, and life experiences), group and social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, indigeneity, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, and [dis]ability), historically underrepresented populations, and cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations. American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)


The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity — in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect — in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions. American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)


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. American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

The consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; [veterans]; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality. (EO 13985 2021, 7009)

Underserved Groups/populations/communities

The term “underserved communities” refers to populations sharing a particular characteristic, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of “equity.” (EO 13985 2021, 7009)

Inclusive Excellence

Designed to help colleges and universities integrate diversity, equity, and educational quality efforts into their missions and institutional operations. It calls for higher education to address diversity, inclusion, and equity as critical to the well-being of democratic culture. It is an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning, and engagement in local and global communities. Source: American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)