Preventing Harassment: Definitions and Language


  • Harassment: unwelcome conduct, based upon an individual’s membership in a protected class, that is either a condition of working or learning (quid pro quo) or creates a hostile environment. Harassment is a form of discrimination. See the Unlawful Harassment Policy Statement for the official University definition.
  • Retaliation: conduct causing any interference, coercion, restraint, or reprisal against a person complaining of harassment or participating in the resolution of a complaint of harassment. Retaliation is prohibited through the discrimination and harassment policies noted above.
  • Protected Class: a group of people who share common characteristics and are protected from discrimination and harassment. Some protections have the backing of federal and/or state laws. See NC State’s Protected Classes for more information.


  • Anti-Racist Language: These are guidelines developed by the British Sociological Association that capture many of the nuances of language issues related to discrimination and harassment, particularly related to race, color and national origin. Though presented from a British perspective, they are useful and valuable.
  • Guidelines on Anti-Sexist Language: This information was developed by the University of Connecticut Women’s Studies Program and provides alternative words and phrases to use in everyday conversation and written works.
  • Non-Sexist Language: This site, compiled by a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses Gender-Neutral Language and provides some practical alternatives.
  • Sensitive Language: Random House provides a guide to sensitive language that includes sections on Sex, Race, Ethnicity and National Origin, Disability, Age, and Sexual Orientation. Of particular interest is the “Offensiveness Quotient” section.
  • Acceptable and Offensive Language: This site, hosted by Virginia Tech, provides a basic list of offensive language and acceptable substitutes related to persons with disabilities.
  • Getting Through Customs: This site provides some general guidelines for body language. The approach to proper body etiquette acknowledges that non-verbal communication is often just as important as verbal communication.