This past July, a Campus Reform web post that highlighted a “Bias-Free Language Guide” on UNH’s website quickly entered the national news cycle.
That week, I was embarrassed to be a Wildcat.
I was not embarrassed by Campus Reform’s story. Campus Reform’s founder and president promotes right-wing orthodoxy. He has expressed solidarity with organizations that believe only Christians should be able to hold public office and that support discrimination against gay individuals.
I was embarrassed by our university’s official response. President Huddleston joined conservative pundits in lambasting the guide. Huddleston removed the guide from UNH’s website and declared that speech guides have no place at UNH. His statement was noticeably missing any mention regarding the importance of addressing microaggressions on our campus or of fostering inclusive language and discourse.
Language and behavior can reproduce social inequalities and de-value people. Last year I witnessed white students casually calling each other n—-r and a swastika painted on a campus building. I heard stories from other Wildcats of rape jokes and disparaging remarks about transgender persons and persons of varying ethnicities. I also heard more subtle put-downs, some of which were likely made by individuals who were not even aware that their language was exclusive or stigmatizing. As someone who endorses UNH’s goal of striving towards “a culture of inclusion and diversity” (one of UNH’s six “Visions and Values” in our strategic plan), I appreciated having a toolkit that encourages thoughtful expression
that upholds and affirms the diversity present within our community.
President Huddleston’s statement also bought into the right-wing framing of the language guide as being about free speech. These charges were associated with misleading headlines like “[UNH] Bans Word ‘American.’” The guide, however, was not in a policy handbook; it was on UNH’s Inclusive Excellence page under a section entitled Resources. The guide explicitly states that it is about “starting a conversation about word choice” and encouraging critical and reflective thinking, and that it is “not meant to censor… [or] represent absolute requirements.”
Should our administration be taking cues regarding how to realize our vision from Campus Reform? Or should our administration take its cues from the students and community members who are on the receiving end of microaggressions, and from the researchers and practitioners on our campus who understand these issues and are on the front lines of working for a campus climate that engenders inclusive excellence?
President Huddleston, whose side are you on?
In the coming months I will look to the UNH administration’s actions for an answer to that question.
Graduate Student Body President