Guiding Terms

Shared language

At UNC Charlotte, a foundational component to maintaining a culture of inclusive excellence is shared language. Below are the key terms that guide our work.

Diversity1: Refers to the range of human differences and experiences such as race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, citizenship, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system and national origin.

Equity2Refers to eliminating barriers and providing various levels of support and assistance depending on specific needs or abilities to help overcome barriers.  

Inclusion1The extent to which a person feels included or a sense of belonging, means the ongoing process of improving systems to meet everyone’s needs, especially those in marginalized groups.

Inclusive Excellence3: A framework designed to integrate diversity, equity, and educational quality efforts into institutional missions and institutional operations as a shared responsibility among all members. Inclusive excellence is an active ongoing process of continuous improvement through inquiry, action, accountability, and assessment as a driving force for organizing efforts to build and sustain a climate and culture that invites and leverages diversity to guide innovation in teaching, research, discovery, service, partnership, and accountability within and beyond the institution’s borders. 

Climate4: Climate refers to the way that an organization is perceived and experienced by its individual members. Climate influences whether individuals feel valued, listened to, personally safe and treated with fairness and dignity within an organization.

Culture5: The system of social mores, behavioral standards, symbols, worldviews, and beliefs that provide meaning and structure in a person’s life. According to Valerie Pang’s 2005 book, Multicultural Education: A Caring-centered, Reflective Approach, culture is comprised of three layers of acquired knowledge: (a) language, symbols, and artifacts (means of communication), (b) customs, practices, and interactional patterns (means of interaction), and (c) shared values, beliefs, norms and expectations (values driving people and/or groups).

Engagement6: Engagement is an umbrella term that features good practice in teaching, research, and service that is community based. It enriches the learning experience for students; improves research and creative activities by broadening academic thinking and creating results with great impact and relevance; supports a curriculum that improves student development as scholars, researchers, leaders, and engaged citizens; advances opportunities for transdisciplinary research and teaching; advances opportunities for internationalizing the university through shared research, scholarship, and service; helps demonstrate accountability; improves relationships between universities and their communities; expands innovative practices by testing ideas in real-world contexts; and generated unforeseen outcomes that stimulate creativity and innovation. 

Belonging7: Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place, and as the basic fundamental drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, and significant relationships with others.


The terms diversity and inclusion have been defined and are referenced in the University of North Carolina System. (2019, September 20). UNC Policy Manual and Code: 300.8.5 Policy on Diversity and Inclusion Within the University of North Carolina.

Milken Institute School of Public Health. (2020, November 5). Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference? The George Washington University Online Master of Public Health Program.

Williams, D. A., Berger, J. B., & McClendon, S. A. (2005). Toward a model of inclusive excellence and change in postsecondary institutions. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The definitions for climate and engagement have been adapted from Oregon State University.

(2012) Culture. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

Fitzgerald, H. E., Bruns, K., Sonka, S. T., Furco, A., & Swanson, L. (2012). The centrality of engagement in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 16(3), 7-28.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529. 

Simsek A. (2012) Transformational Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.