STANFORD – From the Internet to the national media to the holiday table, much of the country has been struggling in recent weeks with a newly minted Stanford University “language guide” banning the use of words like “American.” “Survivor” and “freshman” are steps too far for many tired of the culture wars.
As politicians and the media continue their ongoing debate over critical race theory, LGBTQ discussions in schools and other cultural issues, liberals and conservatives seem to be on the same page about one thing: This Stanford “language guide” goes too far.
Written by Stanford’s Harmful Language Initiative in collaboration with People of Color in Technology and the Stanford CIO Council, the “language guide” is part of a multi-phase, multi-year project addressing harmful language—in information technology (IT) only—at the University. Its goal is to “eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and bigoted language, on Stanford’s websites and code.”
“The purpose of this website is to educate people about the possible impact of the words we use,” reads the guide’s foreword. “Language affects different people in different ways. We do not attempt to assign damage rates to the terms on this site. We also do not try to address all informal uses of the language.”
The 13-page guide bans the use of what it calls ableist, ageist, colonial and culturally appropriate language, among others, and urges coders to avoid expressions that might seem more innocuous than the obvious “retarded” and “spaz”. “Brave”, “American”, “Hispanic”, “cakewalk” and “homeless person”.
Members of the committee that produced the guide could not be reached, but the guide itself provides context as to why the language was not used. For example, the word “prisoner” should be replaced by “incarcerated person/incarcerated person” because “using human language helps to avoid defining people by only one characteristic”. The word has been specifically labeled a dirty word by the prison abolition movement for similar reasons. What about “American”?
In the guide, the IT authors suggest using “US citizen” instead, in part because America “often refers only to people from the US, thereby implicating the US as the most important country in the Americas” and ignoring the other 42 countries. to the top of the continent. Stanford Medical School professor Dr. For many on social media, including Jay Bhattacharya, the guide sometimes goes too far. He recently called it “really disappointing” on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”
“It doesn’t really foster respect for people,” he said. “It makes people wonder what went wrong at great universities like Stanford.”
Bhattacharya was not alone in his disdain for the “language guide”; dozens of other right-wing media accounts and commentators searched Stanford for publishing it. He quickly got a response from Twitter boss Elon Musk, who said: “Stanford doesn’t accept saying you’re proud to be an American? wow.”
Stanford Chief Information Officer Steven Gallagher said in a statement that the university actually encourages the use of the word “American.” He tried to distance the institution from the work of IT professionals.
The website “does not represent university policy” and it also “does not represent mandates or requirements,” the statement said. The website was “created and designed for discussion by the IT community at Stanford” and provides “suggested alternatives” for various conditions and reasons why those conditions may cause problems in certain uses. Its goal has always been to “support an inclusive community.”
“We particularly heard concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term ‘American,'” the statement said. “We understand and appreciate these concerns. “To be very clear, the use of the term ‘American’ is not only not prohibited at Stanford, it is completely welcomed.”
The statement also said that “the guide is under continuous review for the university’s IT community” and that “the spirit behind it is to respond to feedback from the beginning and consider revisions based on that feedback.”
University of Washington Computer Science Professor and writer Pedro Domingos said in an interview that no university “should try to dictate the language used by its members.”
“Many of the terms that the guide deems harmful and their proposed replacements are frankly ridiculous,” Domingos said. “The way Stanford handled the whole thing is embarrassing.”
While Domingos acknowledged that the technology and IT world needs to be conscious of the kind of language it uses, he said these guides — a similar one was published at the UW — are flawed.
“There’s a lot the tech community can do to improve language use, but the Stanford language guide and the like (such as UW’s) are neither the right way to go about it nor the content,” Domingos said. “Above all, technologists should try to be ideologically neutral, not to push a particular ideology, whatever it may be.”