I tweeted the below recently about the common use of "diverse" to describe these students, even when the speaker/author is really only talking about a particular subgroup of said students (e.g. Black students), and so I choose not to describe the students I care most about as "diverse" (although when I think about everyone who falls into one of the aforementioned subgroups, that does make it a pretty diverse whole group).
Christina and the many, many others she links to in this piece have written about why using "minority" is equally problematic, for some similar and some different reasons.dear academia: a single student cannot be diverse. a 95% black school is not diverse. please stop using diverse as code for not-white. thx.— grace a chen (@graceachen) October 4, 2015
I also see "underrepresented" used a lot, and I sometimes use it when I'm writing or speaking for STEM-specific audiences. But the descriptor I find myself using most often is "traditionally or historically marginalized," and I think the reason is that to me, underrepresented feels like an outcome, or a symptom of the problem, and marginalization feels like the process by which underrepresentation happens, or the problem itself. So just as I'd rather talk about white supremacy than white privilege (I'm not sure privilege in and of itself is a problem; supremacy, however, is), or racism rather than racists, I prefer the term that reminds us of the sociopolitical, economic, and historical contexts that have led to this moment.
Side note: I don't just mean "students for whom the standard math classroom isn't designed," because I'd argue that math class as it exists in most U.S. schools today isn't really designed for many boys, either (or, children, for that matter; my opinion is that it's mostly designed for automatons). But as a category, boys don't face as many societal pressures or influences telling them strongly whether or not they should be good at math, until we start to consider the intersectionality of race (see: Nasir & Shah, 2011 on racialized math narratives for both African American and Asian American males). And because of intersectionality, and the way our society works, "students of color" almost serves as shorthand for most of the subgroups I focus on, since race is so intricately tied to both class and language-status in this country.
But is it further marginalizing to refer to students as marginalized? Does it paint them as victims of a process? Does something like "underserved" put more emphasis on how they're being failed rather than how they're failing (although that feels more passive to me)?
I've done the "member check" (fancy grad school term I just learned: asking the people you're studying whether what you're concluding about them or how you're representing them makes sense) for myself: as someone who identifies as all of the four subgroups I listed above, I'm comfortable with this term-- and more so than I am with other terms-- for the reasons I described. And I'd suppose that being marginalized doesn't have to imply a lack of agency-- in fact, there are too many examples to name all of the ways in which marginalized people express agency-- just a lack of legitimate power. But obviously, n = 1, and I can't speak for everyone, and "because I felt like it" isn't any sort of justification.