July 19, 2019 | 87° F

EDITORIAL: Word choice isn’t just for your essay

Language Matters campaign educates U. students about diction


Interpersonal, or human-to-human relationships create the fabric of our society. The nature of those relationships is crafted by how we communicate with one another, and consequently, what we say and how we say it can have an irrevocable impact on others. Language matters.

Language Matters is also a campaign by the University that tries to promote awareness of how presumptive phrases integrated into colloquial language foster hostile environments for some minority groups. The campaign consists of posting flyers across campus to educate the Rutgers community on how certain words could be received and interpreted in unexpected ways. Some examples include a word bubble that says, “That exam just raped me,” and next to it, “Would you say that if you knew that I was a victim of sexual assault?” Another word bubble says, “That’s so retarded,” and next to it, “Would you say that if you knew I had a disability?” The juxtaposition of a common phrase sits harshly next to the other word bubble, and the reason for the flyer is to illuminate a serious reality of words that are trivialized in everyday language.

Words are fraught with meaning, and certain words carry the heavy weight of pain and suffering, so it makes sense that we should understand the full effect of our diction. How some of these words are commonly expressed sometimes misrepresent an identity or personal history, unwittingly making light of difficult experiences. Like the given examples, people forget or even ignore the trauma of abuse or casually belittle the mental capacity of others. The Language Matters campaign subtly addresses these issues with flyers that serve as a friendly reminder to rethink what we say and how we say it.

Like other universities in an era of heightened social consciousness, Rutgers attempts to recognize difficult experiences and minimize the ways in which their effects can be aggravated. It is a simple effort invested in making this institution more inclusive for different identities and for different backgrounds. However, there are some who are bothered by what was thought to be a benign campaign, according to a recent article by The Daily Targum.

But the fact that an 8.5 by 11-square inch paper — that at a very basic level reminds others not to be insensitive — can incite controversy speaks volumes about the University’s values. Rutgers prioritizes freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well as diversity of background and experiences, but the two are sometimes in tension. The freedom to insult others comes with the freedom of speech, but then it can reduce the prospects of minority groups enrolling to the University because they can feel unwelcome or unsafe.

But the Language Matters campaign does not aim to curb freedom of speech, its goal is not to censor. Its goal is to create awareness. Rutgers loves to plaster the faces of people of color on their brochures and loves to tout the word "diversity" at any opportunity, but ensuring that diversity exists and making people feel like they belong in the community requires sensitivity and understanding of students’ backgrounds. Education about the effects of comments that subtly insult or denigrate the existence of others should not be discounted.

Also — being on a college campus — it makes sense that students are being encouraged to expand our vocabulary beyond “rape” to express the dynamics of domination and powerlessness and “retarded” to describe unsophistication. Instead of being bothered that you are advised not to use certain words in a particular way, you can try to get a better grasp of the English language. Avoiding insensitive clichés can not only make what you are saying more precise, it can improve your relationships with other human beings.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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