Exploring the Impact of Language

Balmore Ruano | New University

Balmore Ruano | New University

Members of the ASUCI Office of the President were out on Ring Road and near Langson Library/Gateway last week for their “Language is Powerful” campaign — an initiative organized to educate students on the effect of certain words and create a more inclusive campus climate.

Students were encouraged to visit the booth, where they could fill out pieces of paper that either said, “I am not ____; I am human,” or “Instead of _____, say ____.” After participants filled in the blanks with anything they wanted, the pieces of paper were hung up on what looked to be a clothesline strung across a canopy nearby. Some of the papers had messages such as, “I am not illegal, I am human,” or “I am not retarded, I am human.”

At the beginning of the school year, the Office of the President surveyed students as to what issues they would like to see tackled. Three of the main concerns expressed fell into the categories of transparency, transportation and campus climate. In order to address the latter, organizers thought a language campaign would be a great way to satisfy this request.

“The reason why we’re doing a language campaign is because a lot of people told us that they didn’t feel comfortable walking on campus or speaking to people because words that were used affected them negatively and they felt attacked,” Tony Tizcareno, third-year political science major and Chief of Staff of the Office of the President, said.

Tizcareno mentioned that one example that often generates a negative feeling for some is the phrase, “I raped that test,” or “I was raped by that test.”

“We don’t think [that phrase] can trigger a lot of emotions, but it can for someone who has had past experiences with that,” Tizcareno said.

Also at the booth, organizers encouraged students to sign up for ethnic and gender studies courses because they feel that these subjects contribute to a more positive campus climate and help students gain more critical thinking skills. Although the campaign members did stress that a number of courses do offer critical thinking skills, they believe that it is important for students to take a wide variety of classes to expand their horizons.

Balmore Ruano | New University

Balmore Ruano | New University

Reactions to the language campaign were varied — some students said that they thought it was a cool idea, while others said that they didn’t really think this campaign would get people to stop saying these words.

“Our goal isn’t to monitor what everyone is saying, it’s just to get people to think about what they’re saying and be conscious about how our words can affect fellow Anteaters,” Tizcareno said.

In order to help students think about what they are saying, pamphlets with certain words and explanations about how they affect our community were handed out to visitors. Some words that were deemed harmful by the organizers were “faggot” or the pejorative use of the word “gay,” as this degrades members of the LGBTQQIAAP community and implies that they are lesser or second class. Other words that they do not want to be used are “bitch/pussy,” “slut/whore,” “retarded,” “illegal alien” and “ghetto,” just to name a few.

Of the visitors interviewed at the booth, most of them expressed that this was a positive and educational campaign.

“I realized there’s a lot of words that people let out that might accidentally offend someone,” Nick Ong, a fourth-year sociology student, said. “This is a big awareness campaign and awareness is always positive.”