The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee recently warned students not to use the phrase “politically correct,” which it said “has become a way to deflect, say that people are being too ‘sensitive’ and police language,” adding that it is “disconnected from authentic understanding of impact.”
That’s just one of the words or phrases highlighted in the Center for Inclusive Excellence’s “Just Words” campaign, which is hanging posters around campus.
Proscribed words or phrases on the Just Words posters include: “lame,” which “ridicules and ignores the lives of amputees”; “man up,” which “suggests there is only one way to be a man, also suggests that women can’t be courageous, strong, etc.”; “third world,” which “reinforces hierarchical attitudes toward nations around the world, establishes Westernized (industrialized) countries and cultures as the ‘standard,’ upon which to measure national well-being or economic status”; and “crazy,” which “creates a negative and demeaning perspective of people with mental health diagnoses.”
Student fees, not tax dollars, fund the Just Words program, which UW-Milwaukee spokeswoman Michelle Johnson says was created in response to “a growing number of questions and comments from students about micro-aggressions, what they meant and where they come from.”
UW-Milwaukee went to some effort to determine which words may be “microaggressive” or dismissive. First, it reviewed existing research on problematic language, also meeting with students and faculty.
“The team used multiple sources to explore the origins, context, and impacts of the terms and phrases, including multiple dictionaries and people’s experiences with words,” says Johnson. “Once the team arrived at an initial description of the origin and impact of the term, we asked colleagues, peers and experts to review and offer their input.”
The Center for Inclusive Excellence also asks students to send in words they missed for consideration.
On its Just Words campaign web page, the University says that it is “not seeking to tell people what they can/cannot say,” a sentiment Johnson echoed, adding, “the university strongly supports free speech.”
She continued: “The goal is to raise awareness of the impact of the words and to encourage students, staff and others to think about the words that they use. We hope they will ask themselves, ‘Are the words I am choosing truly conveying what I want to say?’”
Ari Cohn, a free speech lawyer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says the University should tread with caution.
“While universities are free to educate students about the impact of certain words or language and encourage them to consider that while speaking to one another, such efforts must be strictly aspirational,” Cohn said. “A university that engages in a campaign like this must be careful and make clear to students that no administrative or disciplinary action will be taken against those who do not agree or comply with the universities views.”
The UW-Milwaukee also offers a Phase 2 of the Just Words program, which includes “active programming” presentations about “microaggressions”, available on request to student groups and campus departments.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.