'Language Matters' campaign at Rutgers receives backlash


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Photo by Nikhilesh De |

Readers of conservative news site Campus Reform voiced concerns over a bulletin board hanging inside a College Avenue residence hall. 


A bulletin board hanging in a College Avenue residence hall urging students to only use "necessary" language has stirred controversy among readers of conservative news site Campus Reform.  

The website published an article on Aug. 31 that displayed a photo of a bulletin board in a College Avenue residence hall titled “Language Matters: Think.” Commenters on Twitter described the board as an affront to the First Amendment and curtailing free speech on campus. 

The bulletin board reminds students to be wary of the words that may come up in a conversation, such as ”retarded” and “illegal aliens.” It prompts students to ask themselves whether their choice of words is “true,” “helpful,” “inspiring,” “necessary” and “kind."

The bulletin board goes on to warn students that failure to keep these rules in mind could result in a microaggression, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a comment or action that is subtly and unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”

The bulletin board is part of the “Language Matters” campaign, an initiative launched last fall by the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities. The group has said microaggressions can go past offensive language, and can also be nonverbal and environmental.

The flyer was adapted from the University of Maryland’s “Inclusive Language Campaign,” which lists phrases that some may take offense to, such as saying someone “looks like a terrorist” or that something “is ghetto.”

The Bias Prevention and Education Team at Rutgers is designated to handle reports of microaggressions and other biased incidents. 

According to the Campus Reform article, the Bias Prevention and Education Team “experienced a surge of reports after alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos visited campus last semester.”  Students at the event covered themselves in fake blood in protest of the Breitbart editor's visit to the campus. 

Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda released a statement on the behalf of the University Friday stating that “students have been receptive to the goals” of the Language Matters campaign.

“(The program) is offered by request as an education workshop and information is provided on the website of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities,” Miranda said.

Miranda confirmed that a resident assistant posted the information and defended the bulletin board.

“Within the framework of education, information and community service communications, resident assistants have discretion as to what messages they wish to post on bulletin boards in student housing,” he said.

Miranda said everyone at Rutgers has the right to free speech and free expression, and encourages “open discourse in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.”

Jordan Richardson, a senior in the School of Management and Labor Relations, has been a resident assistant for four years, and said she feels like this bulletin board makes living spaces feel more like inclusive communities and shouldn't be perceived as going overboard.

"What we say and how we say it does matter even if we can't always see how it's molding our communities and impacting the people around is," she said.

She said the language matters poster gets people thinking about the words they're using and how they're interacting with people around them.

People who are bashing the poster are creating a negative impact on the environment that resident assistants aim to foster in their residence halls, Richardson said.

Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi affirms this commitment to free expression and academic freedom, Miranda said.

Princeton University also received criticism recently after an the school launched an initiative for gender-inclusive language to be used around campus. The policy eliminated the use of almost 40 words or common phrases that included man or differentiated gender, such as layman or mankind.

A similar situation occurred at Rutgers in 2013, when the University decided to change the lyrics to the alma mater to be more gender inclusive.

Rutgers Residence Life did not respond to a request for comment.


Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Communication and Information senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is an editorial assistant for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.


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