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Stanford pulls IT language guide that brands ‘American,’ ‘brave’ as ‘harmful’ words

via Stanford

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    Amid massive backlash within and beyond its academic community, Stanford University has backpedaled on a language initiative that deemed words such as “American” and “brave” to be “harmful.”

    Aimed exclusively at Stanford’s information technology (IT) community, the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) sought to address potentially “harmful language” on Stanford websites and code. It was reportedly catalyzed by events at the national and campus levels in 2020.

    The guide reportedly listed 10 categories of offensive languages: ableist, ageism, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, violent and additional considerations.

    Among the discouraged words and terms were “manpower” because it “reinforces male-dominated language;” “walk-in” because “walk” trivializes people with disabilities; “white paper” because white “assigns value connotations based on color (white = good);” “Karen” because it ridicules “a certain group of people based on their behaviors” and “brave” because it promotes the “noble courageous savage” stereotype, “equating the Indigenous male as being less than a man.”

    It also suggests not to use the phrase “long time no see” because it “was originally used to mock Indigenous peoples and Chinese who spoke pidgin English” and the term “Oriental” because it “is seen as pejorative as it racializes people of Asian descent as forever opposite ‘others’ (Occidental vs Oriental).”

    Providing all aforementioned justifications, Stanford recommended the alternatives “workforce” for “manpower,” “drop-in” for “walk-in,” “position paper” for “white paper,” “demanding or entitled white woman” for “Karen,” “I haven’t seen you in so long!” for “long time no see” and “person of Asian descent. Better yet, use the specific cultural heritage (Chinese, Japanese, etc.) if known” for “Oriental.” The guide stated “none/do not use” for the alternative of “brave.”

    Stanford also included “American” because it implies “that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas,” excluding dozens of other nations. The alternative offered was “U.S. citizen.”

    The 13-page guide has drawn an overwhelming amount of backlash since it went live on a dedicated website last month. 

    Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford School of Medicine, described it as “really disappointing” in an interview with Fox News.

    “It doesn’t actually foster respect for people. It just makes people think what’s gone wrong with great universities like Stanford,” Bhattacharya said.

    The outrage has also been palpable online.

    “I’ve always been proud to be an Iranian American immigrant. But to follow Stanford’s new language standards, I would need to call myself an ‘Iranian U.S.-citizen person-who-immigrated.’ This seems awfully wrong,” Code.org CEO Hadi Partov wrote in a Twitter thread.

    “Stanford University published a list of ‘harmful language’ they want to eliminate. Including words like ‘brave’ and phrases like ‘kill two birds with one stone.’ Tyrannical insanity,” YouTuber Iman Gadzhi tweeted. “And you still think going to college will make you smart and successful?”

    Amid the chorus of angry comments, Stanford opted to shut down the EHLI website. 

    In a statement on Wednesday, Chief Information Officer Steve Gallagher said the initiative actually sought to be more inclusive but admitted that they “missed the mark.”

    “The primary motivation of this initiative was always to promote a more inclusive and welcoming environment where individuals from all backgrounds feel they belong,” Gallagher said. “The feedback that this work was broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity means we missed the intended mark.

    “It is for this reason that we have taken down the EHLI site,” he continued. “The path forward will be determined after reviewing all recent feedback and consulting with university academic and administrative leadership.”


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