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Terms and Definitions

The following terms and definitions have been identified and compiled from a variety of sources to inform and unify how the university community characterizes these topics.


Diversity represents our varied collective and individual identities and differences. We recognize that diversity is a central component of inclusive excellence in research, teaching, service, outreach and engagement. We are committed to engage, understand, promote and foster a variety of perspectives. We affirm our similarities and value our differences. We uphold that, to truly be excellent, a university must support diversity.
SOURCE: MSU Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Planning Committee


Equity goes beyond fair treatment, opportunity, and access to information and resources for all, although these are crucial to the success of the university. Rather, equity can only be achieved in an environment built on respect and dignity, which also acknowledges historical and contemporary injustices. We are committed to intentionally and actively redressing barriers, challenging discrimination and bias, and institutionalizing access and resources that address historical and contemporary social inequalities.
SOURCE: MSU Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Planning Committee


Inclusion actively invites all to contribute and participate. In the face of exclusive differential power, we strive to create balance. Every person’s voice is valuable and no one person is expected to represent an entire community. We are committed to an open environment and campus where students, alumni, staff, faculty and community voices are equally respected and contribute to the overall institutional mission.
SOURCE: MSU Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Planning Committee


Any relationship, interaction, policy, procedure or something in the physical environment that replicates someone’s trauma either literally or symbolically, which then triggers the emotions and cognitions associated with the original exposure.
SOURCE: The Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care; Jennings, 2009

Relationship Violence

A broad term that encompasses domestic violence and dating violence.

  • Domestic violence is an act of violence (actual or an attempt to cause physical injury to another) or threat to cause violence to another, committed by an individual who is a current or former spouse or intimate partner of an individual, a person with whom the individual shares a child in common, or a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the individual as a spouse or intimate partner.
  • Dating violence is violence (actual or an attempt to cause physical injury to another) or threat to cause violence committed by a person:
    • who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim; and
    • where the existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on a consideration of the following factors:(
      • length of the relationship,
      • the type of relationship,
      • the frequency of the interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.

SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy

The United Nations expands on this definition to include other forms of violence in its definition of domestic violence. Per the UN, domestic abuse can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
United Nations (2021), Definition of Domestic Abuse

Sexual Assault

A broad term that includes non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual penetration (attempted or actual) or sexual exploitation.

  • Non-consensual sexual contact is the intentional touching of intimate body parts of another person in a sexual manner without consent, causing another to touch intimate body parts without consent or the disrobing or exposing of another without consent. Intimate body parts include but are not limited to the mouth, neck, buttocks, anus, groin, genitalia, or breast; however, sexual contact can occur with any part of the body.
  • Non-consensual sexual penetration refers to attempted or actual penetration of a genital, anal, or oral opening of another person by use of an object, instrument, digit or other body parts. An “object” or “instrument” means anything other than a respondent’s genitalia or other body part. This includes forcing an individual to use an object, instrument or digit to penetrate another individual as well as oral penetration by a sex organ of another person.
  • Sexual exploitation includes, but is not limited to: observing or attempting to observe another individual’s nudity or sexual activity or allowing another to observe consensual sexual activity without the knowledge and consent of all parties involved (this includes non-consensual recording, sharing or streaming of images, photography, video, or audio recordings of sexual activity or nudity); exposing one’s genitals or inducing another to expose their genitals in non-consensual circumstances; inducing incapacitation for the purpose of making another person vulnerable to non-consensual activity; masturbation in public; or arranging for others to have non-consensual contact or penetration.

SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy

Sexual Battery

Any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact involving forced touching of a sexual nature, but not involving penetration.
SOURCE: Know More @ MSU Campus Climate Survey

Sexual Harassment

A form of discrimination that includes verbal, written, electronic, or physical behavior, directed at someone because of that person’s sex (actual or perceived), gender, gender identity, gender expression, actual or perceived sexual orientation, sexual identity, or based on gender stereotypes, when the behavior is unwelcome and meets any of the following criteria:

  1. submission or consent to the behavior is reasonably believed to carry consequences, positive or negative, for the individual’s education, employment, university living environment, or participation in a university activity or program (this can also be referred to as “quid pro quo”);
  2. the unwelcome behavior is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it causes an unreasonable interference with the individual’s work or educational performance by creating an intimidating, hostile or demeaning environment for employment, education, university living or participation in a university activity or program (this can be referred to as a “hostile environment”).

SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy

Sexual Misconduct

A broad term encompassing sexual harassment and sexual assault (see definitions above).
SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy


Engaging in a course of conduct that is directed at a specific person or persons that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear for themselves or the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress. This includes cyberstalking, which utilizes electronic formats such as the internet, social networks, social media apps, blogs, tests, cell phones and other devices. Stalking can include behavior that occurs outside the context of a relationship.
SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy


A survivor-centered approach seeks to empower the survivor by prioritizing their rights, needs and wishes. It means ensuring that survivors have access to appropriate, accessible and good quality services. It is essential that competent service delivery actors have the appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills to prioritize the survivor’s own experiences and input. By using this approach, professionals can create a supportive environment in which a survivor’s rights are respected and in which they are treated with dignity and respect.
SOURCE: United Nations (2013), Center to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Title IX

Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities.
SOURCE: MSU RVSM and Title IX Policy


Trauma-informed services realize the impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, respond by integrating knowledge about trauma into their approach, and resist re-traumatization.
SOURCE: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014)