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We understand that there may be many newcomers to the social justice sphere. It is important that as we broach these topics, we have a clear and common vocabulary. We have included below a list of definitions for words and phrases that are commonly used in social justice work.


the practice of opposing individual and systemic racism in society. Anti-racist practice requires deliberate actions to combat racial prejudice and discrimination and provide equitable opportunities for all people regardless of the racial group with which they identify.


the totality of learning activities that are designed to achieve specific educational outcomes through a coherent structure and processes that link theory and practice in the professional education of a professional.

Health disparity

a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with economic, social, or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social or economic obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. Health disparities are primarily determined by structural factors, rather than by biological ones or by individual behaviors.

Health equity
  1. the elimination of health disparities, conceptualized as two separate parts: 1) the principle as a vision to aspire towards and 2) the practice as the action needed for current structural change to occur.
  2. providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.
  3. the principle underlying a commitment to reduce—and, ultimately, eliminate—disparities in health and in its determinants, including social determinants.
  4. social justice in health (i.e., no one is denied the possibility to be healthy for belonging to a group that has historically been economically/socially disadvantaged).
Hidden curriculum

the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school. While the “formal” curriculum consists of the courses, lessons, and learning activities students participate in, as well as the knowledge and skills educators intentionally teach to students, the hidden curriculum consists of the unspoken or implicit academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school.

Implicit Bias

the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.


the complex, cumulative way in which the intersection of different identities overlap and interact with systems in which they operate.


to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group.


brief, subtle, and commonplace actions, snubs, slights and insults directed at historically stigmatized or marginalized groups that implicitly communicate inferiority and/or hostility that are often unintentional and based on unconscious bias.
Professional Development: the process of maintaining or expanding knowledge, skills, values and behavior for a specific career trajectory.

Professional Development

the process of maintaining or expanding knowledge, skills, values and behavior for a specific career trajectory.


The designation of human “races” is a social construct, strongly tied to the process of European state-formation and, later, imperial expansion and colonialism. Racial distinctions from the 17th century onwards, moreover, implied the establishment of racial hierarchies that justified military/political control and the assertion of the intellectual, physical, and moral inferiority of colonized and/or enslaved peoples. Medical and scientific claims of “racial differences” beginning in the 18th century, such as those made in comparative anatomical, clinical, or behavioral studies, emerged in this context and have contributed to the equivocal notion of “biological race.” In practice, the critical insistence on a purported “biological basis of race” simply perpetuates racist views and practices that have existed for centuries.

Relationship-based pedagogy

Relational pedagogy emphasizes the social, dynamic, and interconnected nature of human development, promoting belonging and trust. This challenges educators to think deeply about their role and their commitment to personal and professional growth. It examines what it actually means to have strong, authentic, intentional, and responsive relationships with students, and how this is critically connected to student well-being and success.

Social accountability in medical schools

the obligation of medical schools to direct education, research, and service activities towards addressing the priority health concerns of the community, region, or nation that they are mandated to serve. The priority health concerns are to be identified jointly by governments, health care organizations, health professionals, and the public.

Social Determinants of Health

conditions in the environment in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks, such as availability of resources to meet daily needs; access to educational, economic, and job opportunities; and access to health care services.

Social justice

the view that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities —this includes the right to good health.

Social justice curriculum (SJC)

a course of study that prioritizes health equity as it teaches students to recognize social and structural determinants of health and prepares them to address the consequent health disparities.

Social responsibility

state of awareness of duties to respond to society’s needs.

Social responsiveness

course of actions addressing society’s needs.

Structural Determinants of health

upstream policies, systems, and practices that influence social determinants and health outcomes, including: Racism & white supremacy; Sexism and patriarchy; classism and capitalism; Heterosexism, homophobia, and transphobia; Ableism; Xenophobia; and Imperialism

UNC School of Medicine Diversity Definition and Policy

the School of Medicine strives to create a culture of belonging where its students, faculty, and staff can thrive regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, gender identity, gender expression, sex, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability, culture, socio-economic status, age, political ideology, national origin, or veteran status. The School of Medicine also endeavors to increase the presence of those who are committed to serving under-resourced and rural populations. While working to create an inclusive welcoming environment for all, the School of Medicine is committed to ongoing systematic recruitment and retention activities to achieve its mission appropriate diversity outcomes. (

Underrepresented (UR)

the concept of underrepresentation refers to population groups whose numbers (in certain geographic areas or within a defined category or discipline) are disproportionally less than the general population (i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, first generation, low income, veteran status, disabilities, people who identify with more than one race/ethnicity, and depending on context this can also include other identity groups).

Underrepresented in Medicine (URM/URiM/UIM)

those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population, as defined by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This includes American Indian/Native American, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. For the purposes of Asian Underrepresented, this terminology is defined by some medical schools as those who do NOT identify as Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Asian Indian, or Thai. Please note, it is important to clarify the difference between Underrepresented Minority and Underrepresented in Medicine when reporting on diversity and diversity statistics.

Underrepresented in Research

Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, individuals with disabilities that substantially limit one or more major life activities, and certain individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Women are underrepresented in senior faculty and leadership positions. (See NIH definitions for more details.) (