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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 and Humanizing Equity

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 that we operate from a lens of humanizing equity, or ensuring that those most impacted by a system of injustice are the face of the solution. 

Humanizing equity is the process of making organizational equity work radically inclusive in action. This requires bringing those bodies most impacted by systemic injustice into the fold and including them throughout the entire process. If organizations are not inviting those most marginalized to create policies that are intended to create equity for those most marginalized, then how will they know their policies are necessary? Additionally, if organizations are not assessing the impact their policies have on actual lived experience of those most marginalized, how will they know their efforts are working?

Humanizing equity is the process of being radically inclusive in all of our equity practices to ensure that our work is OF and BY those most impacted by systemic inequity. This requires valuing their input, treating them as stakeholders in the outcomes, ensuring that they are co-creators through the process versus experimental groups, and including them throughout the entire process from idea, to implementation, to assessment.

Healing Justice

Because the work of radical inclusion and humanizing equity requires organization to peel back many layers, histories, and experiences, organizational members and community members may experience traumas induced by oppressive environments and histories. When organizational members and community members experience those traumas, it is imperative to acknowledge them and begin doing the work to heal through them. This work is referred to as healing justice. Healing justice is the range of practices, services, and resources that foster recovery and resilience in the face of trauma and other harm caused by oppression.

At DICE, we offer resources and practices to help SLU communities engage in healing justice while also creating equitable policies and environments. We do this because we know while policy change is necessary and important, policy alone will not advance social change. Individuals within the organizations, communities, and systems of oppressions require support to fully benefit from policy shifts.

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.

Radical Inclusion

Radical inclusion in the movement for social change captures the difference between having a seat at the table as a tokenized person meant to fulfill a quota versus being valued and engaged beyond stereotypes and preconceived notions. Radical inclusion asks us to show up as our whole selves, and create space for others to show up as their whole selves without judgment or exclusion through the entire process of idea creation, to implementation, to assessment.

Radical inclusion is the idea that in order to thrive as humans and organizers, we must think about what it means to be our whole selves and be honest about who we are, what we need, and our boundaries. In order to understand our whole selves, we must be self-reflexive, which requires us to think deeply about what make us unique, and whether we feel comfortable sharing that with others, or if we feel the need to tuck away bits and pieces of us for fear of fitting in, being judged, or being dismissed. The following questions help us begin unpacking the various layers that make you a unique and whole human being who deserves to be radically included.

  • Who am I?
  • What matters to me?
  • How do I engage in self-care?
  • What are my social identities and how do they impact my work?
  • How do they impact how others see me?
  • What am I leaving out?
  • How does compartmentalizing my self increase my personal and invisible labor? 

Radical inclusion is also an external process that asks us to think intentionally about how we show up for other people and how we create space for other whole selves who may have social identities different from our own. The following questions help us to begin sorting through how your organization creates space for other people to coexist in ways that spark positive social change.

  • Am I inviting diverse others to bring their whole selves to the table?
  • Am I engaging them in ways that support their whole selves?
  •  Do I understand their social identities and how they impact their work?
  •  Do I understand my biases towards their social identities and how that impacts how I see their work?
  • Am I including them throughout the entire process, from idea, to implementation, to assessment?

To become radically inclusive, organizations must begin with an invitation before the table has been set so that community members feel like co-creators of the partnership, the table, and the endeavor. Organizations must offer prolonged engagement. Community members need to feel valued as stakeholders over the long term and not just pawns who have intellectual property to pillage. They must feel like their input, design thinking, experiences, and resources are valued, utilized, and cherished through the entire process, over time.

Finally, efforts to grow your organization should feel less like policies meant to fix human interactions without human engagement and more like interventions meant to re-evaluate the way organizations are not only of and by community, but also invested in making structural, interpersonal, and personal changes to ensure community members feel welcomed, valued, and ownership over the entire process. This requires changing not just policies, but people as well. This is the process we refer to as humanizing equity.

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.

Social Justice

At DICE, we focus on the social, or the things we do in everyday interaction that humanize each other and repair and prevent interpersonal, physical, discursive, legislative, and economic violence.

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.