The ‘Inclusive Language Guide’, an internal best practices manual for employees of Colorado State University, came to prominence last week after free speech activists took note of some of its more contentious language rules.
Colorado State University has been forced to defend itself following criticisms over a controversial draft language guide listing words and phrases like “America/American”, “Hispanic”, “homosexual”, “Indian”, “male/female”, “normal person”, “straight”, and “transgendered” as something that “should be avoided” over their potential to cause offence.
For example, the guide’s rationale on the word “American” being offensive was that “the Americas” actually “encompass a lot more than the United States”, with the use of the word said to “eras[e] other cultures and depic[t] the United States as the dominant American country.”
“Hispanic,” meanwhile, was deemed problematic “because of its origins in colonialization and the implication that to be Hispanic or Latinx/Latine/Latino, one needs to be Spanish-speaking.”
As for “homosexual”, its offensive nature was said to stem from “the clinical history of the word” to “suggest that gay people are somehow not ‘normal’ or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.”
“Straight,” meanwhile, is troublesome, according to the guide, because it “implies that anyone LGBT is ‘crooked’ or not normal.”
A slew of other words and phrases, including “addicted”, “basket case”, “birth defect”, “eye for an eye”, “cake walk”, “spaz”, “lunatic”, “depressed/OCD”, “dwarf/midget”, “Eskimo”, “freshman”, “ghetto”, “handicap parking”, “hip hip hooray!” “Indian”, “long time no see”, “you guys”, “Mr./Mrs./Ms.”, “no can do”, “paddy wagon”, “peanut gallery”, “starving”, “thug”, “uppity”, and “wheelchair bound,” among others, were also listed as problematic for various reasons.
The guide was discovered by American conservative media, including CampusReform.org, earlier this month, and quickly provoked the wrath of free speech and conservative activists, including Speech First president Nicole Neily, who stressed that “even though these guidelines are suggested and not mandatory, they place students in the uncomfortable position of reciting politically correct talking points that they may not agree with”.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker penned an op-ed in the Washington Times about the guide last week, blasting the university system for “spending so much time worrying about ways not to offend anyone” instead of actually “teaching our students”.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican Party, tweeted about the guide, calling it “pure unpatriotic insanity”. The post was retweeted and liked thousands of times, with the post receiving over 2,300 comments and quickly breaking out into a partisan flame war.
The uproar prompted CSU Chancellor Tony Frank to pen an official statement, calling the media and activist comments about the guide “untrue” and “based on an outdated document”.
According to the chancellor, CSU does “not place prohibitions on language”, with the “internal guide” said to have been created by an “informal group of CSU staff” and not meant for students. Nor was it official policy or required reading, but rather a “living document”, he stressed.
Frank clarified that the term America/American was deleted from the draft before a finalised version was circulated.
“It was designed as a free resource for people who were asking for help to avoid saying something unintentionally that might needlessly offend someone with whom they were working”, Frank explained, adding that most of the suggestions were “common sense” and that they have been “in common use for decades”.