High school seniors select colleges for many reasons. This year, being able to say the words “manmade,” “American,” or “freshman” on campus might just be one of those reasons.
In December, Stanford University’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, co-sponsored by the Stanford CIO Council and People of Color in Technology affinity group, made headlines for its 13-page guide to language on campus.
One goal of the initiative is to eliminate “gender-based” language, according to the guide. An incoming freshman is to be referred to as a “frosh” or “first-year student.” Likewise, the guide suggests the word “staff” in place of “man” as a verb and “person hours” instead of “man-hours.” Items that are “manmade” should be referred to as “made by hand” because the “term [manmade] reinforces male-dominated language.”
Under the “Imprecise Language” category, the initiative suggests using “U.S. citizen” instead of “American” because the latter “term often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas (which is actually made up of 42 countries).”
There is nothing wrong with being proud to be an American.
In the catch-all “Additional Considerations” section, students are told not to “submit” things but instead “process” them, as “[submit] can imply allowing others to have power over you.”
The initiative might want to get rid of power dynamics, but no matter the language, the person turning in an application subjects themselves to the decision of whoever reads and judges the application.
After much feedback, the guide was removed because “the feedback that this work was broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity means we missed the intended mark.”
Indeed. Language matters. Censorship and policing of language stifles debate and meaningful conversations on campus.
Policing language is a tool progressives use to force their ideology on the rest of the campus. It is a way to wage a battle over ideas in an indirect way.
The Stanford effort to provide a language guide is not unique in higher education, nor is the politics of it.
Back in 2021, the Faculty Senate at Pennsylvania State University voted to replace freshman and sophomore with “1st year” and “2nd year.” The bill’s introduction states, “The University, as with most all academic institutions world-wide, has grown out of a typically male-centered world. As such, many terms in our lexicon carry a strong, male-centric, binary character to them. Terms such as ‘freshmen’ are decidedly male-specific, while terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist. Terms such as ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ are parallel to western male father-son naming conventions, and much of our written documentation uses he/she pronouns.”
The Washington State University Editorial Style Guide section on inclusive language states, “All written content should be free from words, phrases, or tones that are offensive and/or exclude people based on their identities.”
Examples of offensive language include terms such as ladies and gentlemen, freshmen, upperclassmen, moms and dads, mankind, and courtesy titles. In their place, staff should use terms such as first-year students, humankind, human-made, and they/them/theirs as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
The guide even includes specific instructions on when to use the terms “female” and “woman.” “‘Female’ is acceptable as an adjective when necessary, but should not be used as a noun replacing ‘woman,’ since it excludes women who were not born biologically female,” the guide says. “The same applies to use of ‘male’ as a noun. ‘Female’ and ‘male’ are biological categories while ‘woman’ and ‘man’ mean a whole human person.”
There are many aspects of college for which freshmen must prepare. How not to violate language guides is now one of them on many campuses.
As high school seniors pick their colleges for the fall, they should research the free speech environment on campus. Beware of campuses with woke language guides.