Stanford University published a language guide Monday that announced the exclusion of the word “American” from the school’s websites and other online properties, a word which, the guide says, is “harmful” because it suggests an insult to those people from the other Americas.
“The goal of the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative is to eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased (e.g., disability bias, ethnic bias, ethnic slurs, gender bias, implicit bias, sexual bias) language in Stanford websites and code,” the EHLI states.
The EHLI itself comes with its own “Content Warning,” which states, “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”
Leland Stanford would be ashamed of the institution he cofounded. It just forbid “harmful” language such as calling yourself an American and/or an immigrant. 😳
Guess my naturalized legal immigrant American parents and relatives are harmful now! 😑 https://t.co/NMcCdN3VY1
— Gabriella Hoffman (@Gabby_Hoffman) December 20, 2022
“Harmful” language in the EHLI is grouped into these categories:
Ableist, Ageism, Culturally Appropriative, Gender-based, Imprecise Language, Institutionalized Racism, Person-First, and Violent.
“Terms that don’t fit into any of those categories are gathered under “Additional Considerations,” the guide states.
In the EHLI’s section titled “Imprecise Language,” it recommends the word “American” be replaced with “U.S. citizen.”
“[‘American’] often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas,” the project states, pointing out that the Americas is composed of 42 countries.
Other terms to be eliminated at Stanford include the word “abort,” which, the guide states, “can unintentionally raise religious/moral concerns over abortion.”
Stanford’s EHLI recommends using the words “cancel” or “end” as a substitute.
The word “Karen” should also be replaced by “demanding or entitled White woman,” the guide continues, advising as well against using the phrase “peanut gallery,” which, the EHLI says, “refers to the cheapest and worst section in theaters where many Black people sat during the Vaudeville era.”
The words “audience,” “hecklers,” or “critics” may be used instead.
The Stanford language guide also eliminates the word “immigrant,” to avoid referring to individuals using single characteristics and replaces it with “person who has immigrated,” or “non-citizen.”
Other terms to be scrapped include “walk-in office hours” and the term “insane.”
“Walk-in Office Hours … A person who uses a wheelchair can’t walk in or walk up, so consider using ‘open office hours,’” the EHLI states, adding, “That was insane! – This term trivializes the experiences of people living with mental health conditions, so consider using words such as surprising or wild.”
“An email domain or IP address being whitelisted or blacklisted?” the guide continues. “These terms assign value connotations based on color (white = good and black = bad), an act which is subconsciously racialized.”
“Consider using the words allowlist and denylist,” Stanford advises.
Similarly, the Stanford community is instructed to avoid the phrase “beating a dead horse,” because, according to the guide, it suggests acceptance of violence against animals.
The project, described as one that is “multi-phase, multi-year,” is a priority of the Statement of Solidarity and Commitment to Action, which expresses Stanford’s “solidarity with the Black community at large and, specifically, at Stanford.”
“The statement outlined immediate, transformative actions to increase representation and opportunities across the Stanford IT community for Blacks and other people of color,” the guide says.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board observed some of Stanford’s other newly forbidden terms:
You can’t “master” your subject at Stanford any longer; in case you hadn’t heard, the school instructs that “historically, masters enslaved people.” And don’t dare design a “blind study,” which “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.” Blind studies are good and useful, but never mind; “masked study” is to be preferred. Follow the science.
The Journal’s editorial board also noted Stanford felt the need to hide its new language guide once it was published.
“Evidently it was all too much for some at the school to handle,” the editors wrote. “On Monday, after the index came to light on social media, Stanford hid it from public view. Without a password, you wouldn’t know that ‘stupid’ made the list.”
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].