Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Campus Speech

Public universities no longer police drinking on campus, they no longer even house men and women in separate dorms, and they certainly don't object to anyone on campus tossing around the old F-bomb, but don't call someone Mrs. or Mr. and don't use words like insane or crazy else you might be hauled before the campus inquisition and be lucky to emerge without having been stretched on the rack of political correctness.

The College Fix reports on the state of free speech at the University of Michigan:
Dozens of posters plastered across the University of Michigan caution students not to say things that might hurt others’ feelings, part of a new “Inclusive Language Campaign” at the state’s flagship public university that cost $16,000 to implement. Words declared unacceptable through the campaign include “crazy,” “insane,” “retarded,” “gay,” “tranny,” “gypped,” “illegal alien,” “fag,” “ghetto” and “raghead.” Phrases such as “I want to die” and “that test raped me” are also verboten.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told The College Fix in an email the campaign aims to “address campus climate by helping individuals understand that their words can impact someone and to encourage individuals to commit to creating a positive campus community.” Students have been asked to sign a pledge to “use inclusive language” and to help their peers “understand the importance of using inclusive language,” according to campaign materials.

Though only in existence for one semester, the Inclusive Language Campaign has maintained a strong presence throughout the university. Students roaming the campus frequently encounter posters of all sizes reminding them: “YOUR WORDS MATTER,” and asking questions such as: “If you knew that I grew up in poverty, would you still call things ‘ghetto’ and ‘ratchet’?”
I'm not sure why a person raised in poverty would object to the word "ghetto," but then I admit to being pretty much out of the loop on these matters. I mean, I have no idea what "ratchet" even refers to other than a kind of wrench.

Junior Kidada Malloy, who helps promote the program on campus, told the Michigan Daily the campaign “is a great program because it will improve the day-to-day language of students on campus by providing education around words that are offensive.”

Students living in university housing are urged to take part in a Change It Up! workshop, which “brings bystander intervention skills to first-year housing residents for the purpose of building safe, inclusive, and respectful communities.” Before and after completing these workshops, students fill out surveys in which they reflect on internal biases that may pose a threat to an “inclusive campus.”
When I read this I thought maybe Kidada was putting us on. The paragraph (as well as the rationale at the link for purging the particular words the students are aggrieved by) sounds so much like a parody of liberal muddle-headedness I thought it was really a piece from The Onion, but no:
As the Inclusive Language Campaign has enlarged its influence on campus through various kick-off events, interactive programming and provoking visuals, some students have called into question how it reconciles with the university’s policy on free speech, which “encourages open and vigorous discussion and strives to maintain an environment where the free exchange of ideas and opinions can flourish.” Asked if the campaign stifles free speech, Fitzgerald said “we believe this program has just the opposite effect. We believe it will make discourse more constructive by respecting the views and perspectives of others,” he said. “A campus conversation about the impact of words is good for everyone.”
Yes, and as Orwell put it, war is peace, love is hate, and freedom is slavery.

Actually, I have no objection to students working together to elevate the level of speech on campus, in fact I think it's a good thing. But I find it curious that the list of words to be eschewed are mostly words that only a liberal or someone who is hypersensitive (which may be the same thing) would find offensive. Why is there no effort to get students to eliminate from their public discourse words traditionally considered vulgar, scatalogical, or obscene? After all, they're certainly offensive to most people of good breeding. And why omit words that are employed as racial epithets or words like "fatso" and "obese" that demean the morphological extremists on campus or words like "skinny" which is certainly hurtful to those who are skinny? And what about words that hurt the feelings of conservative students, words like "reactionary", "right-winger," and "white privilege"? Perhaps the liberal students who put this list together simply don't know how devastating it can be to a young man or woman's self-esteem to be called a reactionary. Many is the adult who still bears the scars of the trauma such words inflicted on him or her while in their college years. In fact, it just occurred to me that it may be hurtful to liberal students to be called "liberals" since many liberal politicians flee from the label as though it were the herpes virus when the media identifies them as such.

At any rate, the point is that there are a lot more words that could, and should, be banned, and I don't think the U of M students are really thinking this project through. They need to get to work and expand their list to include all the words that anyone anywhere might find offensive. Of course, if they succeed the English lexicon will probably be pared down to about fifty words, none of which will be adjectives.