Community college uses 'unbiased language' to protect 'special interest groups'
Capital Community College in Hartford, Connecticut encourages students to be sensitive to minorities and “special-interest groups” to preserve their feelings in its Unbiased Language guide.
The guide says the evolution of wording is an important part of our culture, and that “as long as writers try to be sensitive to the feelings of minorities and special-interest groups and as long as writers consciously attempt to avoid divisive language that offends, stereotypes, belittles, or hurtfully excludes people, that is all that anyone can ask.”
The first section addresses Gender-Specific Pronouns, asserting that “a student planning to graduate this spring should see his advisor at once” is an example of a problematic sentence, and saying, “we hope that the writer of the sentence above is working at an all-male school; otherwise, grief will follow him or her all his or her days.”
Later in the same paragraph, though, the guide calls the him or her construction “clunky,” and suggests using the plural pronoun “their” in order to avoid confusing the reader.
The college also insists that students “avoid language based on hurtful assumptions about gender,” such as assuming that a doctor is male, saying that “a responsible, sensitive writer will never make demeaning assumptions about gender role.”
Acknowledging that some will find it “unnecessary and cumbersome” to use formulations like “chairperson” and “members of Congress” as opposed to “chairman” and “congressman,” the guide contends that “if we can avoid the argument (and the possibility of hurt) with the use of reasonable substitutes, it's well worth it.”
Yet the accompanying table of suggested substitutes not only includes “chairperson,” but also lists several other potentially inelegant formulations, like using “first-year students” instead of “freshmen” and “sales representative” rather than “salesman.”
However, “being careful to avoid sexist language should not lead one into silliness,” the guide warns before launching into a critique of high school men’s and women’s basketball programs, saying such designations imply “that there is something wrong with being a girl or a boy.”
Gender-neutral language was not the guide’s only target. The guide also advises on how to refer to groups of people, saying that the word “nigger has been claimed as a mark of camaraderie and affection, but only a fool or a boor would use that word outside of that limited social and artistic context and only certain writers and journalists in special circumstances would have the artistic license to use it at all.”
The guide also states that one must be careful to use “nationalist” terms, as “Asian is now widely used instead of Oriental (except, for some reason, when talking about carpeting)” and that “Hispanic seems to have been supplanted by Latino/Latina and that, in turn, by Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Chicano/Chicana, etc.”
While similar guides have been criticized, Capital Community College’s guide states, “The need to be sensitive, fair, and respectful can lead to all kinds of social and personal discoveries.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @themomillennial