The University of New Hampshire has unwittingly found itself at the center of the raging battle over “PC culture” on college campuses.
According to a report from Campus Reform, UNH had for a period of time a “Bias-Free Language Guide” available on its website.
“According to the university’s website,” Campus Reform’s Peter Hasson wrote, “the guide 'is meant to invite inclusive excellence in (the) campus community.'"
Though the guide has since been removed, Campus Reform’s report caused quite a stir, particularly because of the words that were reportedly deemed offensive by the guide.
Among the terms deemed harmful were “senior citizen,” “rich,” “poor,” “healthy,” “freshman” and, most controversially, “American.”
“North Americans often use ‘American,’” the guide reportedly explained, “which usually, depending on the context, fails to recognize South America.”
The guide’s singling out of the word “American” as offensive is apparently what drove the university’s president, Mark Huddleston, to denounce the list.
“While individuals on our campus have every right to express themselves, I want to make it absolutely clear that the views expressed in this guide are NOT the policy of the University of New Hampshire,” Huddleston said in a public statement after the Campus Reform report.
“I am troubled by many things in the language guide, especially the suggestion that the use of the term ‘American’ is misplaced or offensive,” Huddleston continued. “The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be 'sensitive' proves offensive to many people, myself included."
As is typically the case with college scandals related to issues of free speech, some are now arguing that, despite the fact that the guide was removed, the UNH controversy shines further light on the growing acceptance and enforcement of political correctness on college campuses.
“The guide should be understood not as an attempt at censorship, which would be illegal,” New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait (who has written extensively about political correctness in the past) wrote on Wednesday, “but as a cutting-edge statement of p.c. language norms. It indicates that the list of terms that can give offense has grown quite long indeed.”
During an interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, UNH student Yvonne Dean-Bailey expressed her own concerns about the implications of the university having such a list.
“We’ve seen this on many college campuses,” Bailey said, referring to other instances of restricting “microagressions.” However, UNH’s situation was different because “This isn’t one word or one certain class the administration is going after. This is a dictionary of 60 terms highlighted as problematic and they suggest more appropriate terms to use.”
But according to The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg, the real problem with the list wasn’t that it sought to reshape certain terms that some find offensive. It’s that their suggestions were just as off-base as the original offenders.
“Guides like these often promote an absolutely terrible approach to language and writing, offering up alternatives that are simultaneously impoverished and clunky,” Rosenberg argued.
According to Rosenberg, instead of suggesting one never use the term “poor,” it might be more helpful to suggest people be more precise about what type of poverty one is experiencing.
“We’d learn far more from words like ‘bankrupt,’ which might suggest a change in circumstances, or ‘underprivileged,’ which communicates a more pervasive experience of deprivation,” Rosenberg continued. “There are meaningful distinctions between someone who is ‘destitute’ and someone who is merely ‘pinched.’”
This is not the first time a university has made waves for its approach to “suggesting more inclusive language.”
“The message of these campaigns often seems to be, when in doubt, say nothing!” Reason’s Robby Soave wrote in February in response to the efforts of the University of Michigan to promote more inclusive language. “That's hardly the right lesson for a university to impart to its students.”
JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: jjfeinauer.