Why the Term ‘JEDI’ Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

J. W. Hammond,Sara E. Brownell,Nita A. Kedharnath,Susan J. Cheng,W. Carson Byrd

The acronym “JEDI” has become a popular term for branding academic committees and labeling STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) initiatives focused on social justice issues. Used in this context, JEDI stands for “justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.” In recent years, this acronym has been employed by a growing number of prominent institutions and organizations, including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. At first glance, JEDI may simply appear to be an elegant way to explicitly build “justice” into the more common formula of “DEI” (an abbreviation for “diversity, equity and inclusion”), productively shifting our ethical focus in the process. JEDI has these important affordances but also inherits another notable set of meanings: It shares a name with the superheroic protagonists of the science fiction Star Wars franchise, the “Jedi.” Within the narrative world of Star Wars, to be a member of the Jedi is seemingly to be a paragon of goodness, a principled guardian of order and protector of the innocent. This set of pop cultural associations is one that some JEDI initiatives and advocates explicitly allude to.

Whether intentionally or not, the labels we choose for our justice-oriented initiatives open them up to a broader universe of associations, branding them with meaning—and, in the case of JEDI, binding them to consumer brands. Through its connections to Star Wars, the name JEDI can inadvertently associate our justice work with stories and stereotypes that are a galaxy far, far away from the values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. The question we must ask is whether the conversations started by these connections are the ones that we want to have.

As we will argue, our justice-oriented projects should approach connections to the Jedi and Star Wars with great caution, and perhaps even avoid the acronym JEDI entirely. Below, we outline five reasons why.