James Madison University (JMU) is in Harrisonburg, Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C. It is, I believe, the intellectual home of Jason Rosenhouse, author of the estimable EvolutionBlog, and I wonder what he thinks about this report from Law Newz. What’s happened at JMU is that “student leaders who participated in freshman orientation” (presumably those responsible for such orientation) were given a 7-page guide of “dumb things to say”: phrases that are awkward, unwise, or could be construed as bigoted or as microaggressions.
The guide, called “35 dumb things well-intentioned people say: Surprising things we say that widen the diversity gap by Dr. Maura Cullen”, is online here, and of course was first revealed by a right-wing site, The College Fix. (When will Leftist papers start taking notice of the Speech and Behavior Police proliferating in American and UK universities?) The Fix reports this:
The list was apparently derived from Dr. Maura Cullen’s book 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say that Widen the Diversity Gap.
The existence of the handout was first revealed by The College Fix. James Madison University spokesman Bill Wyatt told the online news outlet “this was just an exercise, prior to orientation, to get our volunteers to understand how language affects others. The list was not distributed to our first-year students nor were the volunteers instructed not to use the phrases.”
However, some of the JMU orientation handout materials obtained by the website appear to contradict some of Wyatt’s claims. A document titled “Building an Inclusive Environment” that was included with the list of phrases handout pointedly reminds orientation leaders that they have a duty to “create a safe an inclusive environment for your first year students” and instructs them to use the list of phrases “as a resource to help accomplish this goal.” The document also instructs orientation leaders to “take some time to reflect on your prejudices and biases, and how that might affect your interactions with students.”
And here’s the list of phrases to be avoided:
1. “Some of my best friends are …”
2. “I know exactly how you feel.”
3. “I don’t think of you as …”
4. “The same thing happens to me too.”
5. “It was only a joke! Don’t take things so seriously.”
6. What do ‘your’ people think.”
7. “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?”
8. “I don’t see color” or “I’m color blind.”
9. “You are so articulate.”
10. “It is so much better than it used to be. Just be patient.”
11. “You speak the language very well.”
12. Asking black people about their hair or hygiene.
13. Saying to LBGTQ people “what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom is your business.”
14. “Yes, but you are a ‘good’ one.”
15. “You have such a pretty face.”
16. “I never owned slaves.”
17. “If you are going to live in this country, learn to speak the language!”
18. “She/he is a good person. She/he didn’t mean anything by it.”
19. “When I’ve said the same thing to other people like you, they don’t mind.”
20. Calling women “girls, honey, sweetie pie” or other familiar terms.
21. When people of color say, “It is not the same thing.”
22. When people of faith say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
23. When white men say, “We are the ones being discriminated against now!”
24. Referring to older people as “cute.”
25. Asking a transgender person, “What are you really? A man or a woman?”
26. Referring to the significant other, partner, or spouse of a same gender couple as their “friend.”
27. “Why do ‘they’ (fill in the blank) always have to sit together? They are always sticking together.”
28. “People just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”
29. People with disabilities are “courageous.”
30. “That’s so gay/queer. That’s so retarded.”
31. “I don’t see difference. We are all part of the same race, the human race.”
32. I don’t care if you are pink, purple or orange, I treat all people the same.”
33. Asking a transgender person, “Have you had the operation.”
34. Saying to a Jewish person, “You are so lucky to have ‘your’ Christmas spread over a week!”
35. “Here’s another book on political correctness.”
Now I agree that nearly all of these phrases are not ideal things to say, and many are downright offensive. The student guidesheet explains why. I’ve chosen four that I think are less offensive than others:
The ones that bother me most are the ones that find offensiveness in statements like “I don’t see color” or “we’re all the same.” To me, that was once the ideal of an egalitarian society, and so it was to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wanted people judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I suspect that Dr. King would have approved of being able to overlook someone’s ethnicity or race and treat everyone as equals.
Things are different now. It’s considered offensive to say that you don’t see color. Why? Because, with identity politics, color is considered part of a “life experience” that cannot and should not be dismissed. But what are you supposed to say if you’re really color-blind in this way? “Yes, I see your color and I am a bad person for being a racist and discriminating on that basis?” The “dumb” statements almost force one to recriminate oneself for bigotry.
My main objection, though, is this: colleges should not be in the business of telling students what or what not to say in the interests of amity. Is it really “free speech” for a college to pass out handouts like this, and police language in a university? I don’t think so. It’s the College of Life that will teach students what things foster good social interaction and what things don’t. Here James Madison University is not just acting in loco parentis, but in loco societas (pardon my Latin).
If free speech is truly to be valued in a university, they should not issue guidelines about what or what not to say. After all, where are JMU’s instructions about not calling Jews “kikes” or Mexicans “beaners”? Shouldn’t the students know that, too? Of course they should, but they learn it from interacting with others, not as a diktat handed from above.
And if you think this is a good idea, go read about what happened a year ago when Harvard University tried to foist “social justice placemats”, showing Officially Approved Words and Behaviors, on its students. Here’s what they looked like: