University Lists ‘American’ and ‘America’ as Words to ‘Avoid’ in Language Guide

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
July 19, 2019USshare
University Lists ‘American’ and ‘America’ as Words to ‘Avoid’ in Language Guide
File image of a woman wearing an American flag. (Dan Russo/Unsplash)

A Colorado college listed “American” and “America” as two of the words that should be avoided in an “Inclusive Language Guide,” which officials later described as “an internal guide.”

The Colorado State University System guide (pdf), described as “not an official policy” and a “living resource,” was linked to by the school’s “Women and Gender Collaborative,” reported Campus Reform.

The guide said “American/America” should be avoided, stating: “The Americas encompass a lot more than the United States. … Yet, when we talk about ‘Americans’ in the United States, we’re usually just referring to people from the United States. This erases other cultures and depicts the United States as the dominant American country.”

The guide also stated people should “never assume a person’s gender” and avoid using “he or she” and “ladies and gentlemen” and “Mr./Mrs./Ms.” and “male/female.”

American flag
The American Flag is seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City on March 7, 2019. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Other words and phrases to be avoided included: Hispanic, hip hip hooray!, illegal immigrant, long time no see, normal person, I’m starving, birth defect, the blind, the deaf, and eye for an eye.

References listed at the bottom of the guide included Bustle, Huffington Post, and Stuff You Should Know.

In a letter (pdf) responding to stories about the guide, college System Chancellor Tony Frank claimed the stories were “untrue and are based on an outdated document.”

“The facts are that an informal group of CSU staff people who work with students created an internal guide on inclusive language because other staff members asked for it—it was designed as a free resource for people who were asking for help to avoid saying something unintentionally that might needlessly offend someone with whom they were working,” he wrote in a statement.

“Most of the suggestions in it are common sense and have been in common use for decades. This list was never intended for use by students. It is NOT official policy or required to be read or followed by anyone; in fact, the guide itself says that in bold type at the top of the list.”

Frank said that the school’s campuses “strenuously advocate for First Amendment rights” and “consider free speech and the First Amendment the foundations of a great American public university.”

Mary Ontiveros, the school’s vice president of diversity, told 9 News that “America” and “Americans” were included in the guide because the terms might mean something different to different people, repeating the statement that is listed in the guide itself.

She also said that “we’re not dictating anyone to use it one way or another, any of the words on that list.”

“If you’re going to use a particular word, it’s probably good to know what that word means and you can choose to use it or not use it understand that it might strike one person a particular way and others another way,” she added.

Others found the guide disturbing.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) reacted to stories about the guide on Twitter: “Wow! @ColoradoStateU’s Inclusive Coms Task Force decided that America is a word so ‘offensive’ it should not be spoken. I’m #ProudtobeanAmerican. All Americans from all walks of life should be able to say they’re proud of their country.”

“The guide certainly does encompass a great deal of everyday, common expressions, and it is possible that the speech of some students will be chilled if they are confused into thinking that the document represents official policy of the university,” Azhar Majeed, spokesman for the free speech advocacy nonprofit, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Campus Reform.

“However, given the introductory language…I think it would be unlikely that any student carefully reading the guide would be mistaken and led to believe they could face disciplinary action for their speech,” Majeed added.

Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, told Campus Reform that “even though these guidelines are suggested and not mandatory, they place students in the uncomfortable position of reciting politically correct talking points that they may not agree with. Words like ‘American,’ ‘male,’ and ‘female’ are used every day by billions of people around the world. When these students graduate, they’re in for a rude awakening!”

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