Derogatory slurs inappropriate on college campus
Column | Nothing, if not Critical
Last August, the nonprofit lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning advocacy group Campus Pride published its annual top 25 report on “LGBT-friendly Colleges & Universities” in the United States. Alongside such prestigious universities as Princeton, Ithaca College and Stanford University, Campus Pride’s 2013 listing proudly ranked Rutgers among the most inclusive in the nation. Indeed, the ranking is certainly a source of honor — Rutgers even acknowledges the achievement on its website’s “National Rankings” section.
However, despite Rutgers’s critical acclaim for LGBTQ+ inclusion, bigoted opinions can still be found regularly on a personal level. Although our University’s concentrated LGBTQ+ programs provide safe spaces for gender and sexuality minority students, our student body often falls short of honoring inclusivity in everyday conversation. At times, offensive language is openly and publicly used, without a single complaint from allies and bystanders.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon for homophobic, transphobic and bigoted slurs to be found on campus. Words and phrases such as “faggot,” “homo” and “that’s so gay” are often used openly and publicly without a second thought to their hurtful connotations. Likewise, transphobic language, such as “transvestite,” “tranny,” “born-a-man/woman,” “he-she/she-he” and “shemale,” are regularly used in discussions about transgender identities despite their transphobic history and derogatory connotations.
For those of us particularly familiar with microaggressions, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. On the Internet alone, the prevalence of bigotry against LGBTQ-aligned identities has been an ongoing problem for decades. The widely normalized usage of homophobic slurs in online discussions, for instance, has motivated the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services to create its own website tracking homophobic language on Twitter. NoHomophobes.com identifies itself as “a social mirror to show the prevalence of casual homophobia in [Western] society.” Using a “licensed real time display of tweets that include the words: Faggot, Dyke, NoHomo,” and “So Gay,” the website collects live data on the frequency of homophobic language on Twitter, and displays a live feed of homophobic tweets.
Since the website launched in July 2012, “So Gay” has been used more than 6 million times in tweets, while “Faggot” has appeared more than 24 million times. In the course of one year and eight months, this totals to over 31,364,401 tweets that have used 140 characters (or less) to perpetuate homophobic mentality in Western society.
In retrospect, it is no surprise we have a problem with microaggressions on campus: For Rutgers’ queer students, we live in a society that regularly embraces bigoted slurs as a valid form of expression. When language that demeans sexual and gender minorities is used freely in casual conversation, this language works to alienate and isolate marginalized identities. When this language enters the public sphere, it acts as reinforcement for society’s bigoted beliefs.
Likewise, many other marginalized groups face the normalization of oppressive slurs in everyday life. Misogynistic slurs, for instance, seem to find a welcome home in public social spheres. According to The Guardian’s Barbara Ellen, slurs and misogynistic jokes are used regularly to create an unsafe environment for women in public, private and professional environments. In her article, “Sexual slurs against women are no laughing matter,” Ellen frames the experiences of Gems TV host Charlie Vernon, who faced a slew of misogynistic slurs in her earpiece while on the air. “Women may recognize,” Ellen states, “the phenomenon where routine repartee, occurring anywhere from a drunken night in a bar to stone cold sober in an office takes on an aggressive, sexually offensive nature. Suddenly, the woman is a bitch, slag, ‘ho’ or variant thereof.” Ellen notes the use of these sexist slurs, “[have] nothing whatsoever to do with humour …” but rather, “[are] about power and control, under the spurious guise of ‘lighthearted banter.’” Like the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic slurs in society, misogynistic slurs work to publicly belittle and control women. Using “lighthearted banter” as a cover, these slurs attempt to make women feel inferior, despised and socially alienated by the community at large. And, as a form of oppression, the usage of this demeaning language can serve as a reinforcement of internalized misogynistic beliefs.
Slurs remain a powerful tool against marginalized groups. At Rutgers University, there is simply no room for excusing this sort of oppressive behavior. In order to create a positive and progressive learning facility, demeaning language must be kept off campus. Otherwise, the casual usage of this language reinforces dominance on a personal level — and, in the process, strengthens the existence of structural oppression on a social, cultural and institutional scale.
Philip Wythe is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English with a minor in political science. Their column, “Nothing, if not Critical,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.