UCSD says term 'minorities' is offensive, tells students to say ‘people of color’

The University of California San Diego is drawing criticism over posters that have appeared on campus asserting that the term “minorities” is offensive and should be replaced by “people of color.”

A picture posted on Reddit shows one of the posters hanging at UCSD’s John Muir College. In three text bubbles arranged to evoke the image of a traffic signal, the poster instructs viewers to “stop saying minorities,” explaining that “This term diminishes the voices of people of color by assuming a predominantly white, middle-class majority,” and recommends that they “say instead people of color.”

The submission generated a firestorm of outrage, eliciting comments pointing out that “not all ‘minorities’ are so because of their ethnicity” (handicapped and LGBTQ individuals, for instance), and that not all ethnic minorities are easily distinguishable by their skin color (notably Hispanics).

One of the most prevalent sentiments, expressed primarily by individuals describing themselves as light-skinned Hispanics, is that the poster’s advice exacerbates the difficulties they face in being accepted as a minority.

“White is a skin color, not a race,” one individual noted, adding that the two are not mutually exclusive. “I am also a white Hispanic who is met with disbelief (and outright told ‘no you're not, you don't look Mexican’) when I tell people I am Mexican.”

Another reader endeavored to explain that, at least according to some, “if you’re a ‘person of color’ but you aren’t visibly ‘POC enough,’ then you’re … ‘white passing’,” the implication being that “you have the ‘privilege of a white person’ despite being a racial minority.”

UCSD officials did not respond to messages from Campus Reform seeking in part to determine whether the school had considered such objections prior to hanging the posters. A review of the school’s Principles of Community, however, indicates that the poster’s message more likely reflects an overzealous attempt to promote tolerance and diversity than it does a desire to disparage white privilege.

“We acknowledge that our society carries historical and divisive biases based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and political beliefs,” one of the principles states. “Therefore, we seek to foster understanding and tolerance among individuals and groups, and we promote awareness through education and constructive strategies for resolving conflict.”

Other relevant items on the list cite the university’s commitment to “[affirming] each individual’s right to dignity” and “promoting and supporting a community where all people can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of abusive or demeaning treatment,” either or both of which may have recommended the poster to school officials.

Another source of inspiration is alluded to in a footnote at the bottom of the poster stating that the content was “adapted from U. of Maryland ILC,” a reference to UM’s Inclusive Language Campaign.

Erica Simpkins, a program administrative specialist at the Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office at UM, which oversees the ILC, told Campus Reform that while there are no materials published by the campaign that specifically advise using “people of color” instead of “minorities,” the message is consistent with other examples listed on the school’s website.

Simpkins also noted that the terms targeted by the ILC—such as “ghetto,” “retarded,” and “gay”—were determined by a student survey, and speculated that a similar method may have led UCSD to identify “minorities” as a similarly problematic term.

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