‘We Clearly Missed the Mark:’ Stanford U-Turns on ‘Harmful Language’ Guide Asking Students Not to Say ‘American’

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AFP Contributor

Stanford University appears to be distancing itself from its own IT Department after the school was mocked on the internet over the department’s recently published “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” which deems certain words and phrases “violent,” “ableist,” and “culturally appropriative,” among other pejoratives. The university also announced that the IT Department’s guide “does not represent university policy” and is currently under review. “We clearly missed the mark,” the school added.

“Over the last couple of days, there has been much discussion of a website that provides advice for the IT community at Stanford about word choices in Stanford websites and code,” the university announced in a statement, titled, “Update on Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.”

The Associated Press

Stanford University campus (Associated Press)

The school went on to explain that the website — which published a list of words and phrases deemed “harmful language” and suggested replacements — “does not represent university policy.”

“It also does not represent mandates or requirements,” the university continued. “The website was created by, and intended for discussion within, the IT community at Stanford.”

“It provides ‘suggested alternatives’ for various terms, and reasons why those terms could be problematic in certain uses,” the school added. “Its aspiration, and the reason for its development, is to support an inclusive community.

One of the words that was deemed harmful was “American.” Instead of saying “American,” Stanford’s IT department suggested that “U.S. citizen” be used in its place.

“We have particularly heard concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term ‘American.’ We understand and appreciate those concerns,” Stanford said in its statement. “To be very clear, not only is the use of the term ‘American’ not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed.”

The university went on to insist that including the word “American” on the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative “was to provide perspective on how the term may be imprecise in some specific uses, and to show that in some cases the alternate term ‘US citizen’ may be more precise and appropriate.”

“But, we clearly missed the mark in this presentation,” Stanford admitted.

The university concluded by informing the public that the IT Department’s so-called harmful language guide “is undergoing continual review.”

“We value the input we have been hearing, from a variety of perspectives, and will be reviewing it thoroughly and making adjustments to the guide,” Stanford said.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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