Learning The Definitions

Ever come across a word in the latest news article about a weighty topic or heard it casually pop up in a conversation between friends, but found yourself unsure of its meaning?

As we keep working towards a more inclusive and caring community, we’ve compiled this neat list of key terms that play a significant role in understanding and tackling the critical issues we encounter daily. We know this list of key terms constantly expands, but it’s a great starting point for now!


Ableism is how society functions in a way that centres people considered “able” or neurotypical, excluding and devaluing those with disabilities or who are neurodivergent. You’ve probably encountered ableist language at some point because, unfortunately, it’s pretty normalised.

Although, in an ABC Everyday article, Ellen Fraser-Barbour describes ways that it may go under your radar:

Take the many media stories that often use words that communicate the underlying message we are a "burden" on society. Think of all of the buildings, spaces, places, events (and so on) that were often designed without consideration of the needs of people with disability. Often we are the afterthought — or not thought of at all."

It’s a problem that often goes unquestioned and may not always be intentional, but that doesn’t mean there’s no harm.

Affirmative Consent

The active steps taken by a person to establish whether another person wants to have sex before they engage in the act. In 2022, the NSW Parliament passed updated affirmative consent laws. These laws require that, for sex to be consensual, there must not only be an absence of a ‘no’ but also obvious steps taken by every party to determine consent. This means that sex isn’t consensual unless you have confirmed it. If you did not actively obtain consent, you might not be having consensual sex.


In today’s world, we must go beyond having a “non-racist” attitude that enables us to become passive. Anti-racism is all about taking action. It requires consistent and committed effort to address racism at all levels, from individual interactions to institutions and systems. Generally, we often pay more attention to individual acts of racism while the deeper, systemic issues persist. Anti-racism is about targeting and confronting these systemic injustices head-on.

Economic Racism 

The effects of past racism and historical reasons continue to shape the present, leading to economic and social disparities. These disparities have a lasting impact on specific communities.

First Nations

Australia comprises many different and distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, each with their own culture, language, beliefs and practices. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first peoples of Australia, meaning they were here for thousands of years before colonisation and, as such, are the First Nations of this country.


In many societies, “gender” and “sex” are often used interchangeably without much thought. However, it’s essential to understand their distinct meanings. The Gender Centre puts it out best like this:

Gender on the other hand is far more complex and is widely understood to be the interrelationship between those physical attributes (sex), and one’s awareness of themselves as masculine, feminine, any combination of both, or neither.”

At the heart of it, gender is related to how you identify and feel, while sex pertains to your physical characteristics, such as genitals and hormones. Recognising this difference helps us have a more nuanced understanding of individuals and their experiences.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism involves organisations, businesses, and enterprises’ policies, practices, and procedures. It refers to how their everyday operations can perpetuate racial discrimination. Understanding how these entities may impact certain groups unfairly based on race is essential.

The Australian Human Rights Commission describes one way it can manifest:

An example of this would be an organisation banning the use of swimming caps created specifically for individuals with black hair, as enforcement of such a rule prevents and excludes the participation of members from some culturally diverse communities in sports.


LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual community. The “+” symbol represents the broad spectrum of diverse sexualities and genders in this diverse community.


A microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a marginalised group member (such as a racial minority). They might feel like small or harmless statements, but when you hear them every day, they can be incredibly harmful.


In a Headspace article, a neurodivergent person shares what they personally understand neurodivergence is to be:

[It's] a variation in thought processing and behaviours that differ from the norm. Neurodivergence is often a divergence from normal brain activity, brain shape or may be identified by different social behaviours."

Some examples of neurodivergence are ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia. 


Privilege means having advantages others don’t, often based on position or wealth. It’s linked to dominant social groups controlling society’s values and rewards. Majority groups historically had more power and economic resources. In an Australian context, this demographic would be those from an Anglo-Christian background. That being said, having privilege doesn’t guarantee an easy life. It’s contextual and can change based on different situations. Our identities, such as our skin colour, gender, and body, influences how we navigate the world. While you can’t eliminate privilege, you can acknowledge it.


Pronouns are the words we use to refer to someone without using their name, like he/him, she/her, they/them, or others. Some people have one set of pronouns (e.g., Marcus uses he/him) or multiple (e.g., Claire uses she/her and they/them). Others may change theirs over time. In English, pronouns are gendered. However, we can’t always determine someone’s gender just by looking at them. We often use pronouns in everyday speech without realising it, so we must respect people’s pronouns.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any act of a sexual nature that is done without consent. It is important to note that sexual acts do not just include penetration - sexual assault can also include actions such as oral sex. 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or sexual behaviour towards another person where it can reasonably be expected that the person will feel intimidated, humiliated or offended by the behaviour. 

Sexual Violence

When consent isn’t provided, any form of sexual activity is considered sexual violence (i.e. sexual assault and harassment). This includes situations where consent is not sought correctly, agreed upon or when a person doesn’t stop or respond appropriately when their sexual partner changes their mind before or during the sexual activity. 

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism is a complex concept encompassing individual attitudes and historical, cultural, and institutional factors working together to perpetuate inequity. It involves how various institutions and systems fail to provide equal opportunities and fair treatment to individuals based on their racial or cultural background. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission describes the consequences of this deeply rooted issue:

Systemic racism is responsible for certain communities experiencing poor life outcomes, lower pay, and less opportunities for advancement within leadership positions."

Even seemingly neutral policies can inadvertently contribute to discriminatory effects, such as excluding qualified candidates educated at an overseas school or university.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias encompasses our unfavourable attitudes and beliefs about certain racial, cultural, ethnic, or religious groups without even realising it. These biases are often deeply ingrained due to the consistent exposure to negative racial stereotypes propagated by media, news, and political sources. Consequently, many of us may unknowingly internalise these stereotypes, even if we consciously reject racism. Acknowledging and addressing these biases is vital to fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. It requires self-awareness and an ongoing commitment to challenge and change our ingrained perceptions.

More Resources

SRC General Secretary

Paige Sedgwick

SRC Students with Disabilities Officer

Geoffrey Zhen & Timothy To

SRC Ethno-Cultural Officer

Diya Sengupta

SRC Indigenous Officer

Brydie Zorz

SRC Queer Officers

Pepsi & Rebecca Blundell

SRC Women's Officer

Imandi Mudugamuwa