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Defining DEI

Saint Louis University's Division of Division and Innovative Community Engagement provides definitions of common terms around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Community Engagement

Saint Louis University follows the Carnegie Foundation’s definition of Community Engagement, seen below, which helps guide the work of the Division of Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement and lays a foundation for deepening our engagement with community and campus partners. 

Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification: “Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”

Connected Communities

Connected communities are identified by three criteria: place, identity and affinity.

  • Place: Saint Louis University employees and students make up connected communities in addition to external communities located in close proximity to Saint Louis University, St. Louis city, and Madrid, Spain.
  • Identity: Communities unified by one more social identity categories like race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, nationality, neurodivergence, disability, class, and/or age connect to SLU by way of our Jesuit mission to alleviate injustice for those most marginalized.
  • Affinity: Communities should not just share common social identity categories, but also form around shared interests or common goals. In other words, they have formed a community because of their shared identity and common goals. Communities in alignment with the Jesuit mission are also a part of our connected communities. 

When identifying connected communities, organizations should be as specific as possible, narrowing down all of the common factors associated with the three criteria. To do so is to hone in on a specific niche versus crafting assumptions about what may or may not bring a community together.

At Saint Louis University, our specific communities include patients, alumni, parents, vendors, industry partners, neighbors, both housed and unhoused, all SLU staff, faculty, students, and administrators, communities in direct proximity to our campuses, and any and all marginalized people that the Jesuit mission promises to lift up and support.


Standard definitions define culture as a “the shared set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization.” Culture is also a verb, or the things we do that when repeated overtime construct ideas around norms regarding how we behave and what we do.

When we think of culture as a verb responsible for defining collective understanding of our communities, we recognize the moral obligation to do things that push us towards liberation, healing justice and futurity. 

Cultural Diversity

The term cultural diversity began making waves in 1987 when organizations began investing in diversifying their workforces. The textbook definition states that diversity occurs when population differences are well represented within a community. These differences include race, ethnicity, age, ability, language, nationality, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. A group is diverse if a wide variety of social identity categories are represented.

Over the years, diversity work has been conflated with the idea of a Seat at the Table, or the ability for diverse others to have influence and power over the decision making process. According to TIME magazine, in 2003, companies spent a reported $8 billion dollars on diversity efforts including training and targeted hires for diversity and inclusion professionals. Despite those efforts, organizations are not more diverse than they were in 1987.

People of color make up 40% of the US population, but remain grossly underrepresented in organization. From 2009 to 2018, the percentage of Black Lawyers rose from 1.7% to 2.8%. A 2018 survey of the 15 largest public companies found that nonwhite employees made up 11% of the board seats. Of those people of color hired in majority white institutions, retention rates are much lower due to burnout, workplace discrimination, and a lack of sense of belonging.

Diversity and inclusion efforts must extend beyond invitations to the table and move into structural and interpersonal changes in practice, policy, and behavior. Instead of focusing on data and numbers, we define diversity as the organizational processes, practices, policies, and procedures that ensure creating and maintaining an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist cultural and structural environment that attracts and retains diverse people. 


Equity, by and large, is defined as a state of being where social and cultural identities no longer predict outcomes and conditions for all people are improved. Achieving equity requires ensuring that those most impacted by a system of injustice are the face of the solution.

Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive excellence is creating and maintaining a standard of quality and equity that empowers and positively promotes each individual’s talents, integrity, and dignity, and, in turn, allows one to reach their fullest and most authentic potential and capabilities.

Social Change

Social change means directly dismantling intersecting forms of social inequality present in gender, race, ethnicity, social class, religion, sexuality, and other status dimensions. The goal of social change is dismantling oppressive social structures and practices that block human flourishing.

Transformative Change

Transformative change is a process through which who we are is changed so deeply that our very ways of perceiving, thinking, reflecting and meaning-making about ourselves, our institution, and our organizations shift. Our emotions become more alive and expressive. Our relationships and connectedness to and within our communities shift. The way we show up shifts. We let go of legacy solutions and find the courage to completely shift the equilibrium of our organization and create something new.

Universal Accessibility

Universal accessibility is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.