UNH bias guide: The term ‘American’ can be offensive

Last modified: 7/30/2015 12:33:08 AM
UPDATE: UNH on Thursday removed the language guide from its website.

---------------



A “bias-free language guide” written by University of New Hampshire faculty has come under criticism from the school’s president and state officials.

The guide, published in 2013, was meant to educate students and faculty about using “inclusive language” that does not stereotype individuals “or demean people based on personal characteristics” including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic background, according to its page on the UNH website.

First posted by the conservative website Campus Reform on Tuesday, the guide quickly circulated on several national websites, garnering criticism for several of its recommendations.

The recommendations include replacing the phrase “senior citizen” or “elders” with “people of advanced age,” replacing the phrases “obese” and “overweight” with “people of size,” replacing the phrase “rich” with “person of material wealth,” replacing the phrase “Caucasian” with “white” or “European-American” and replacing the phrase “homosexual” with “gay,” “lesbian” or “same-gender loving.”

The recommendation that received the strongest response was the suggestion that students and faculty refrain from using the term “American” and instead use the phrases “U.S. citizen” or “resident of the U.S.” The term “American,” they say, “fails to recognize South America.”

UNH President Mark Huddleston quickly put out a statement, saying the guide was not official university policy.

“I am troubled by many things in the language guide, especially the suggestion that the use of the term ‘American’ is misplaced or offensive,” Huddleston said in his statement. “The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses.”

Huddleston continued to say he was personally offended by the guide.

“It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included,” he wrote.

The guide was authored by several current and former staff members at the university, some of whom work in the UNH Office of Community, Equity and Diversity and the UNH Counseling Center. One staff member at the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity said the guide was meant to be a list of suggestions, not mandatory policy for staff and students.

“When we wrote the first draft many years ago, our mission was to encourage the use of creative and accurate wording to replace words that have histories of hurtfulness and non-inclusion of our full population of wonderfully diverse expressions of what it means to be human,” wrote Sylvia Foster, one of the guide’s authors, in an email. Foster serves as the program coordinator of the UNH Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.

Other UNH staff involved in creating the guide did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

Gov. Maggie Hassan and state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley also weighed in.

“Governor Hassan is proud to refer to herself as an American,” said Hassan spokesman William Hinkle in a statement issued Wednesday.

Hinkle said that while Hassan “firmly believes that we must fully respect all members of our community and supports efforts to increase understanding among all individuals, she also firmly supports freedom of speech and encourages UNH officials to make sure that concerns about this guide are heard and addressed.”

Bradley was more blunt, saying he was “outraged” by the guide.

“Implying the word ‘American’ is not appropriate to use on campus is un-American to say the least,” Bradley said in a statement. “Will UNH next propose to change our Live Free or Die motto to Live Free but Upset No-One?”

Reached Wednesday afternoon, Bradley said he hopes to see the guide removed from the university’s website. If it is not, he said he plans to propose an amendment when the subject of university funding comes up in continued state budget negotiations.

That amendment would require the university to take the guide off the website, Bradley said. He repeatedly called the guide a form of “censorship.”

“To say that the use of the word American is inappropriate . . . how do you not think of that as trying to push censorship?” he said. “It’s incomprehensible. There’s no defense for it.”



(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 
@ella_nilsen.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2020 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy