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Avoid term ‘peanut gallery,’ UNC dorm group social justice training warns

UNC student dorm group also bans ‘harmful rhetoric’

Bylaws for UNC Chapel Hill’s Residence Hall Association ban “harmful rhetoric,” described as including “Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, colorism, texturism, classism, fatphobia.”

A social justice training hosted by the association also advises students against using allegedly offensive terms such as “peanut gallery” and “guru,” screenshots obtained by the Carolina Review show. Instead, students are encouraged to use “outside opinions” and “authority,” respectively.

“During vaudeville’s heyday, the cheapest seats were usually high up in a balcony, a section often reserved for Black patrons. As a result, ‘peanut gallery’ is now among a long list of terms becoming socially unacceptable because of apparently racist origins,” according to a 2020 article in The Conversation.

The Residence Hall Association is one of the public university’s largest student-run groups and is responsible for hosting “diverse social, educational, and philanthropic programs” for all the campus dorms; its membership “includes all 9,500 students living in university recognized residence halls,” its website states.

The Review detailed the Residence Hall Association’s efforts to advance social justice through events and trainings.

“One social justice module obtained by the Carolina Review was titled ‘Inclusive Language Workshop’ and discourages students from using words and phrases such as ‘blacklist,’ ‘whitelist,’ ‘guru,’ ‘minorities,’ ‘peanut gallery,’ ‘pow wow,’ and ‘tribal knowledge.’ The workshop also provides instructions on how to be inclusive to members of the LGBTQ community by not using words such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and the titles ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ The training also makes clear that students are to ask for and use the preferred pronouns of individuals who identify as transgender,” it reported.

The article included screenshots from the training.

The “harmful rhetoric” bylaw appears to violate the First Amendment, according to the April 13 report by the Carolina Review conservative student news outlet, which first reported the story:

The policy also bans “verbal violence” and “harassment or bullying.” These too are never defined. Students who are found to engage in this sort of speech, either at an RHA-sponsored event or “elsewhere in the community” are subject to sanctions determined by the Executive Board. Section 4 of the same Article says sanctions include, but are not limited to, removal, probation, suspension, loss of university office space, and the banning from being elected to and holding RHA office. This policy was “adapted from the Black Student Movement’s 2020 Membership Standards,” according to the by-law.

The Review reports it was “unable to find an example of the RHA or Carolina Housing enforcing the speech related by-law,” but a free speech expert told the outlet even its existence creates a chilling effect.

The bylaw is “a license for whoever’s making the decisions about these ethics complaints to discipline people they disagree with,” Eric Sell, a free speech attorney for the Center for American Liberty, told the Review, calling the policy “totally unconstitutional.”

Sell argued the bylaw opens the university up to a free speech lawsuit, especially since the association receives funding from mandatory student housing fees, the Review reported.

While the harmful rhetoric bylaw does not define the themes it has banned, “colorism” is described by various online resources as discriminating based on lighter or darker skin tones, “texturism” deals with discrimination based on hair textures, and “fatphobia” is discrimination against obese people.

UNC Chapel Hill is no stranger to advancing advice to avoid offense. As The College Fix reported nearly a decade ago, in 2015, a “gender-inclusive language” writing guide handed out by the school advised students against using “mailman,” “policeman,” “man-made” and other compound words that include “man.”

A course routinely offered at UNC also focuses on hate speech originating from extreme right-wing groups and ideologies.

MORE: UNC treats Candace Owens event equally following pushback from free speech group

IMAGE: Aaron Amat / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.