Diversity and Inclusion Acronyms in Higher Education: Which One is Right?

December 19, 2023

Breneil Malcolm

M.Ed. in Higher Education

Diversity and Inclusion Acronyms: D and I, DEI, DEIB, DEIBJ, EDI, JEDI

Almost every time I look at a university’s diversity website, I feel like I see a new string of abbreviations. I recall seeing D&I (diversity and inclusion) in the initial surge of diversity initiatives, after which DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) became most popular. However, more recently I have begun seeing more EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion), and most recently, DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging) and JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion). What’s the reasoning behind these frequent changes? Is there a right or wrong version? Are these frequent changes causing more confusion than clarity for a field that is somewhat still budding? What are the implications for organizations committed to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion?

In one of my previous blogs, I described diversity as the expansiveness of life experiences captured through dimensions such as race, culture, age, gender, sex, socioeconomic status, religion and lifestyle. Inclusion, I defined as how we create spaces to accommodate such diversity. And finally, equity, I emphasized, mediates the relationship between diversity and inclusion to inform how we develop and practice policy.

Within my previous definitional sphere of DEI, two of the more currently common letters included in this abbreviation are not present: B for belonging and J for justice. Some argue that belonging is a given if we account for inclusion. However, the distinction between inclusion and belonging resides within the subjectivity of how someone defines belonging. It emphasizes the dual relationship within institutional top-down power hierarchies that must be put in place if belonging is to truly be fostered. With inclusion, we create environments that are welcoming and accommodating, but belonging refers to the experience of being included. As for justice, the word captures impartiality and fairness. Justice may be thought of as a prerequisite for equity. We must first ensure justice to ensure equitable access.

There is no right or wrong to the differing versions of the inclusivity abbreviations that higher education institutions use. The specific abbreviation an institution uses typically reflects their commitments and institutional philosophical orientations. EDI Specialist Dr. Candy Khan further discusses that the abbreviation used represents the current knowledge and social culture of an organization. For example, an organization that is robust and advanced in EDI terminology may use the more complex DEIBJ, whereas an organization in the early stages of understanding and practicing terminology may use the more simplified DEI. The way the letters are presented (DEI versus EDI) is often another way to demonstrate institutional priorities.

As knowledge increases, we must also adjust – and it is no different for the equity and inclusion field. As needs evolve, so too do terminologies to represent the work of higher education institutions more clearly. D&I, DEI, DEIB, DEIBJ, EDI, JEDI – these are all very valid abbreviations. Whichever an institution uses is subjectively determined but, more importantly, is an indication of their commitment to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education.

Become a leader who can positively impact meaningful inclusivity efforts through a leadership program at American College of Education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Breneil Malcolm
Breneil Malcolm, M.Ed. in Higher Education

Breneil Malcolm graduated from ACE with an M.Ed. in Higher Education, with a focus of study in Leadership. They are currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Design and Technology with Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Their research interests focus on diversity, equity and inclusion through the interdisciplinary frameworks of pedagogical, psychological and critical theories.

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