Inclusive Language Campaign aims to show students that words matter

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By Charlotte Jenkins, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 15, 2014

Monday, the University’s Expect Respect initiative officially launched the Inclusive Language campaign in the Michigan Union. Both the kickoff event and the campaign aim to raise awareness about the power of language in everyday discourse on campus.

Amanda McLittle, coordinator of Diversity Education in University Housing, said given incidents like Theta Xi’s “Hood Ratchet” party and the Black Student Union’s #BBUM Twitter campaign last year, the University created the program to help improve campus climate and understanding.

“We don’t talk enough about how our language and the words that we use, and how they impact others,” McLittle said. “Last year’s events showed that this has always been needed.”

The campaign aims to educate students about hurtful phrases that are not inclusive and eliminate language that perpetuates hate and prejudice. The words and phrases included in a pamphlet distributed at the event included statements that were heard on campus.

ILC materials referenced phrases like “I want to die,” and “that’s so gay.” The former, according to the pamphlet, belittles those who have self-harmed or attempted suicide by implying that their struggle is laughable or insignificant. Phrases like “that’s so gay” imply that those who do not identify as heterosexual are abnormal or wrong.

McLittle decided to bring the program to the University after attending a Big Ten Housing Officers Conference session on diversity and inclusion last October. The ILC is modeled after a similar program at the University of Maryland.

Students have been involved in the campaign since its inception. McLittle and other staff members held focus groups with a variety of students to determine what the campaign should entail. These groups included Diversity Peer Educators, residence hall staffers, Greek life members and students living in residence halls.

“It’s the little things like what people say in class or on the bus that is overheard,” McLittle said. “They’re not so overt, but still affect people on a really deep level.”

LSA senior Iqra Nasir, a diversity peer educator, said she most hopes the campaign helps students recognize how their words affect others.

“When you actually take the time to stop and think about what it (a word) means, you can realize that this can actually hurt someone,” Nasir said.

The event included food and items including t-shirts and informational pamphlets. Students signed a pledge stating they would strive to always use inclusive language. McLittle said that roughly 400 students signed the pledge at the event and added that a number of University staff had lent their support to the campaign.

LSA junior Jeff McAtamney said he hopes students incorporate the message of ILC campaign into their daily activities.

“I think it’d be a better community if everyone could talk in a more proper manner,” McAtamney said.

McLittle said her long-term goals for the campaign are to keep collaborating with Expect Respect and Change it Up, a bystander intervention training program, to make sure dialogue about this issue continues.

McLittle said she hopes to see students in the future taking ownership of their ability to make a positive campus.

“I don’t think students realize how much power they have,” McLittle said.

LSA freshman Lara Moehlman contributed to the reporting.