In an effort to use only “inclusive language,” one instructor at the University of Florida is prohibiting students from using words such as “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” even “Mom” and “Dad,” because they promote stereotypes and exclude alternative relationship structures. Violating these communication rules could result in a lower grade.
Professor Jenny Lee teaches a course entitled “Creativity in Context,” a class which, according to the syllabus, “highlights a set of creative thinking tools and provides an introductory overview of the theoretical models of creativity.” Part of her syllabus places boundaries in classroom communication for students. The syllabus states:
Use inclusive language. Speak in a way that does not make assumptions about others based on “norms”, stereotypes, or one’s own identity or experience. Using terms like “partner”/”significant other” rather than boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife; or “family” rather than mom or dad, is inclusive of alternative orientations and family structures, and free of stereotypes.
Students who do not meet conduct expectations will be given one warning by electronic mail, and continued behavior issues will result in the loss [of] participation points per course instructor’s discretion.
As is often the case, in their attempt to be all-inclusive, the end result is exclusivity. Numerous common words and phrases are to be excluded from students’ communication.
While everyday terms have been banned from her classroom, Professor Lee also requires class participation. Ari Cohn with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) noted that reconciling the two – banning common but “offensive” terms and requiring students to actively participate – will be difficult. In an interview with the Daily Caller, he called Lee’s inclusive language policy “a veritable minefield through which students must tip-toe when they wish to participate in class.” He continued:
“Faced with the possibility of a lower grade, students are likely to refrain from providing their input for fear that the professor or a classmate will be offended by something that they say, no matter how unreasonably.”
These kinds of policies that censor student speech are nothing new. The University of New Hampshire had a “Bias-Free Language Guide” that stated that the term “American” – as well as many others – was offensive.