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Here’s the truth about Colorado State University’s inclusive language guide

On the heels of Colorado State University becoming the target of nationwide criticism and ridicule for its inclusive language guide, its top official is wrongly insisting the whole thing is one big misunderstanding and the result of click bait journalism.

Tony Frank, who recently became chancellor of the Colorado State University system after serving as CSU’s campus president since 2008, argued in a recent Denver Post op-ed that the university wholly champions free speech, notes it’s even allowed white supremacists to air their views on campus, and has also offered staff plenty of constitutional law training.

He states the controversy over the language guide has been blown out of proportion due to bad reporting, and offers his version of events: “A group of staff members mutually agreed to develop an internal resource for people who don’t want to unintentionally offend someone in the workplace. These staff members work with people from many different backgrounds and nationalities, and they were simply asking for advice on how to be polite and respectful. Respect for others — hard to see that as such a sin.”

Frank repeatedly insisted in his op-ed the document was internal, by employees for employees, and never meant for students. He wrote that it simply listed helpful suggestions, and even acknowledged some of the advice was silly. Yes, an old draft recommended against using the term “America,” but it was taken out long ago and not reflected in the current guide, he added.

“Do I think CSU did everything right here? No. Do I think a university needs a guide on words and language? No. … Do I think several of the suggestions in the list are just plain silly? Sure. Do I wish there had never been any debate about the use of the word ‘America’? Of course — it makes me personally sick because I and everyone I know at our university is proud of our country,” Frank wrote.

Here’s what Frank get’s right: the school doesn’t need a language guide, and several of its suggestions are indeed “silly.”

In fact, the vast majority of its suggestions are not only silly, they are absolutely ridiculous.

Consider the words and phrases the guide suggests avoiding: addicted, basket case, birth defect, eye for an eye, cake walk, colored, spaz, crazy, nuts, depressed, dumb, mute, dwarf, midget, eenie meenie miney moe, Mr. and Mrs., epileptic, Eskimo, freshman, lame, deformed, handicapped, he or she, ladies and gentlemen, hop hip hooray, Latino, hold down the fort, Indian, long time no see, male, female, policeman, paddy wagon, peanut gallery, pow wow, rule of thumb, straight, thug, uppity, and much more.

With or without the term America on it, this list is absolutely crazy. To think that a bunch of academics sat around and thought this up — with a straight face — is a frightening canary in a coalmine.

Frank, in an official statement on the controversy released in mid-July, argued: “The bottom line is that no one is making anyone use this guide, and we have not seen any evidence that this brief guide has had a chilling effect on that climate on our learning environment.”

But this is incorrect.

Last fall, one student was already sounding the alarm over the guide in the pages of the campus newspaper. Writing in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, Katrina Leibee’s November 2018 op-ed was headlined “CSU has gone too far with inclusive language.”

Leibee writes she was told by campus authorities not to use certain words: “After getting involved in residential leadership, I was told not to use the word ‘dorms,’ and replace it with ‘residence halls.’ Apparently, dorm refers to only a place where one sleeps, and residence hall refers to a place where we sleep, eat, study and participate in social activities.”

“A countless amount of words and phrases have been marked with a big, red X and defined as non-inclusive. It has gotten to the point where students should carry around a dictionary of words they cannot say. In a meeting with Zahra Al-Saloom, the director of Diversity and Inclusion at Associated Students of Colorado State University, she showed me an entire packet of words and phrases that were deemed non-inclusive. One of these phrases was ‘long time, no see,’ which is viewed as derogatory towards those of Asian descent.”

And Isabel Brown, a recent CSU alum, told the crowd in her speech at the Western Conservative Summit: “I almost lost my job on campus” for using the term “you guys.” She went on to address CSU’s inclusive language guide, clearly another student very much aware of it and sounding the alarm on its chilling effect.

“As a recent college graduate, I am here to attest that there has perhaps been no prior generation facing a more direct assault on our freedom of expression than young Americans are facing today,” Brown said.

“Just a few months ago I was living the leftist reality of indoctrination on Colorado State at Fort Collins, and it was a wild ride,” Brown said. “ … At Colorado State University, administrators recently released an inclusive language guide, which was aimed at guiding student speech towards creating a more inclusive environment on campus for everyone.”

“… Included in the nearly 10 page-document are offensive common words and phrases like ‘long time no see,’ which is now off limits because it’s supposedly racist towards those of Asian descent. Also on the list is handicapped parking, how dare you refer to it as such. To say ‘handicapped parking’ insinuates that people with disabilities are not fully human.”

“… My amusement quickly turned to grim shock upon reading a single word at the top of the list of offensive phrases: America. … For me, reading that word on the list of offensive words was the last straw. … I’m a proud patriot and I’ll stick to using the name of our beautiful nation, thank you very much CSU.”

So Chancellor Frank’s claims that this document was never meant for students is either ignorant or disingenuous, because these two students were very much aware of it, based on their statements — both of which were made before the recent media uproar.

Frank writes in his Denver Post op-ed: “Any student at the university can write the chancellor and use every one of the words in question and exactly nothing will happen.” But what happens if they use these words on campus?

As Brown points out, she almost lost her campus job for saying “you guys.” And as Leibee wrote, she was told what language to use and given the document by an administrator. So the claim that CSU is a champion of free speech and the guide was never meant for students and these two students’ stories do not align.

If Frank wants to champion free speech, he should rip the guide up and throw it in the garbage bin, where it belongs. Now that would send a stronger message than the public platitudes he has offered thus far.

MORE: CSU officials fire back against ‘misrepresentations’ of Inclusive Language Guide

IMAGE: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley / Shutterstock

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