David C. Henley: Word police crusading at major U.S. universities

Did you know that the word police have arrived at major U.S. universities, distributing lists of commonly used words and phrases it wants to ban from campus usage because they are allegedly “harmful, potentially upsetting, racist, sexist and culturally insensitive”?

The word cops, most of whom are disaffected professors and administrators at the campuses who obviously never read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which supports free speech, have initially set their sights on three prominent American universities, Stanford, the University of Washington and USC. I am particularly distressed that USC is the third of the three as I am one of its alumni as are my wife, her late mother who received her teaching credentials there in the early 1920s, my son, one of my two daughters (the other daughter is a UNR graduate), my son-in-law and scores of friends who graduated, for example, from USC’s schools of law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, education, international relations and the journalism school, where I received my degree in the late 1950s.

Of great importance, these banned word lists and their meek acceptance by the three universities have been roundly condemned and mocked by several respected organizations of the left and right such as the 700,000-member American Federation of Teachers, The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, Pen America, a non-profit, non-political nationwide organization that supports freedom of expression in literature, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

What are some of these words and expressions the word cops want to replace? Stanford’s list, for example, wants to do away with the word “American” and replace it with “U.S. citizen” because “America” or “American” often insinuates that the U.S. is the most important nation in the Americas. So-called “sexist” words such as “straight” and “grandfather,” says Stanford, should be changed to “non-binary” replacements because they denote a person’s sex or sexual preference. The Stanford list also says we should not use the term and words “you guys, you gals or girls, landlord and he and she” as they are sexual as well. “Master” also should not be used because it denotes slavery in early-day America. Stanford issues countless master’s degrees each year, so I wonder if this word will be obliterated too.

Stanford pulled their list last week.

The University of Washington’s language guide is similar to the Stanford no-no list. Words it wants to ban include “grandfather, housekeeping, minority and lame” because they are “racist, sexist, ageist and homophobic,” says the university.

While Stanford and Washington have been distributing their lists of banned words and phrases for a month or so, USC is a newcomer to the carnage. In fact it commenced its first banning just last week. And that banning consisted of only one word. That word was “field.” That’s right, “field.” It was banned by USC’s School of Social Work because “field is associated with slavery and is considered anti-Black,” said the Social Work School’s chairman (I mean chairperson.) The chairperson said that “field” has now been changed to “practicum.” I’ve been wondering if the half-dozen or so athletic fields scattered around the USC campus in downtown Los Angeles will also be renamed practicums. Will there be a Jones Practicum, Smith Practicum or perhaps, someday, a Henley Practicum? Will the Social Work School also rename its master’s degree programs because “master” is related to slavery and anti-Blackness as well. Will “field” work for graduate-level scientists such as geologists and student teachers in the Education School also be changed?

Believe it or not, I have a friend who is a USC alum whose name is Ron Field. That’s correct. Ron’s last name is FIELD! When this column is published in the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard, I will mail Ron a copy of it and advise him to change his name at once to Ron Practicum.

When the press got wind of the “field” renaming, local newspapers and radio and TV stations had a FIELD day with the story. One newspaper’s headline said, “USC Bans the Word ‘field’ because it is racial.” SC’s student newspaper, the Daily Trojan, where I got my start in journalism as one of its editors, carried the page one headline, “‘Anti-Racist’ Language Change Causes Confusion Among Students and Community.” That’s because the university’s number two administrator, who holds the titles provost and academic vice-president, must have cried out “OOPS” when she heard and read of the mess caused by the word change. She immediately issued a clarification, stating the word “field” would only not be used by the folks at the Social Work School. Administrators at Stanford and the University of Washington gave similar apologies, stating their banned word and phrase lists were only for certain departments.

Meanwhile, thousands of USC alumni must be hiding out, cringing at the frightful, stupid mess their university could have avoided by common sense and sensible public relations. By the way, “stupid” is prohibited by the banned word cops because it denotes the person labeled stupid is actually stupid.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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