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Brandeis University Releases ‘Oppressive Language List’

Does it Promote Inclusivity or Demonstrate Political Correctness?

Last week Brandeis University in Waltham, MA released an “Oppressive Language List,” as well as recommendations for more neutral language, in an effort to promote a more inclusive campus.

Students and faculty at Brandeis University are being urged to stop using words and phrases like “picnic,” “trigger warning” and even “rule of thumb,” because of what a campus counseling service calls their links to violence and power to “reinforce systems of oppression.”

A compendium of “potentially oppressive language” posted on the school’s website by its Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center also lists loads of examples of “gender exclusive,” “ableist,” and “culturally appropriative” terminology that “can get in the way of meaningful dialogue.”

According to the Center, “PARC recognizes that language is a powerful tool that can be used to perpetrate and perpetuate oppression. As a community, we can strive to remove language that may hurt those who have experienced violence from our everyday use. These recommendations for more-neutral language are brought forth by students who have been subject to violence or who have worked with others who are healing from violence, as well as students who have sought out advanced training for intervening in potentially violent situations.” Brandeis

The university stressed that the list is meant to be a tool to share information and suggestions and that the use of suggested alternatives is not an expectation or requirement for students and staff.

For example, the school says the term “rule of thumb” can be replaced with “general rule” because the “expression allegedly comes from an old British law allowing men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.”

“Policeman” can be replaced with “police officer” because the term “lumps all people under masculine language or within the gender binary,” according to the school.

A suggested alternative to the word “picnic” is “outdoor eating” because picnic has been “associated with lynching’s of Black people.”

“Spirit animal” is also now frowned upon and “favorite animal” should be used in its place because “in some cultural and spiritual traditions, spirit animals refer to an animal spirit that helps guide and/or protect a person through a journey.”

In analyzing the motivation for PARC’s action, I can only wonder whether this is an example of both being woke and political correctness. PARC clearly wants to bring awareness to students, faculty, and staff to words and expressions that may be offensive to others. But how many others really care? Being woke means paying attention to social injustice issues. It’s a stretch to say these terms really are offensive to societal norms in that regard.

As for political correctness, this seems to be the primary motivation for the action. Indeed, anyone who objects to banning the oppressive words runs the risks of being canceled by the cancel culture. Political correctness means not to say things that do not conform to a political ideology. If you don’t conform, then expect to be the recipient of disapproval and exerting social pressure against you on social media that could lead to being signaled out for non-conforming behavior or worse—being ostracized by your community.

I believe political correctness on college campuses has gone too far and should be reigned in. The essence of academia is to discuss and debate contentious issues in a welcoming environment with the goal of reaching a new understanding. Political correctness, in that sense, restricts free speech or at least makes one pay for it when it does not toe the party line.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 1, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.