'Language Matters' controversy continues after Rutgers student's appearance on 'Fox & Friends'
In July, School of Arts and Sciences junior Andrea Vacchiano appeared on the Fox News morning show "Fox & Friends" to criticize "Language Matters," a seminar that is part of the University's orientation program for incoming first-year students.
The interview provoked backlash against Vacchiano among some members of the University community and initiated a controversy over the importance of the "Language Matters" campaign.
In the "Fox & Friends" interview, Vacchiano said that the "Language Matters" presentation discourages students from exercising their first amendment rights and that the campaign “babies” students and does not prepare them for “the real world,” where, she said, no one believes in microaggressions.
“I feel as though most students in the class were basically just indoctrinated,” Vacchiano said on "Fox & Friends." “They didn't question it, they didn't understand.”
Rutgers student body president Evan Covello responded to the televised interview with a Facebook post late in July.
“(Vacchiano) said that new students were told not to use microaggressions,” he said in the post. “Students are never told by orientation staff how they have to talk ... This over-dramatic claim that our first amendment rights are being taken away is ridiculous.”
Because Rutgers is a state institution, it cannot issue any policies that would infringe upon students' constitutional rights.
In the post, Covello specified that the clip wrongly insinuates that students have to pay a certain amount of money for "Language Matters." The money they are referring to, he said, is for the entire orientation.
In the interview, Vacchiano stated correctly that students have to pay $175 to attend the two-day orientation program, he said.
"Language Matters" is one of 15 workshops offered at orientation and only a portion of the aforementioned money is dedicated to it.
Vacchiano said that responses to the interview from other members of the University community were less measured. She cited aggressive comments made in the Class of 2019's Facebook group, including comments attacking her membership of the Douglass Residential College.
Even so, Vacchiano said that she stands by the comments she made in the interview, as she was truthfully describing events from 2015 that she feels are indicative of a hostile attitude toward politically conservative opinions on campus.
“What I disagreed with the most was that the presentation was framed as, 'We're preparing you for the real world by teaching you this,'” Vacchiano said. “I see value in diversity and inclusivity and I understand that we should be sensitive, but I think that the microaggressions framework encourages us to be more sensitive than is appropriate for the real world. We are being taught to overanalyze statements and to always assume someone has the worst intention when they say something.”
She also said that the "Language Matters" presentation discouraged students from questioning the integrity of microaggression theory – which she believes has been criticized in scholarly research on the grounds that it is insufficiently supported by data and that it prevents civil discourse through shame and intimidation.
“The idea that microaggressions exist and we ought to focus on microaggressions is a theory. We shouldn't be taught theories as if they are facts,” Vacchiano said. “They didn't encourage students to have dissenting opinions or to speak their minds. They didn't encourage discussion. They didn't showcase different points of view. I had the impression that it was a very biased presentation ... The whole program is like an echo chamber. They're not interested in improving themselves, they're just interested in having their views validated.”
Covello wrote in his Facebook post that in the "Language Matters" presentation students “have the opportunity to weigh in, regardless if they are going to agree or disagree.”
Vacchiano emphasized that her criticisms of "Language Matters" have to do with its methods, not with its intentions.
“I don't have a problem with the idea that we shouldn't offend people,” she said. “I don't enjoy offending people. I don't think that offending people is good. But I do think there are a lot of problems with the program. The idea that you should only use speech when necessary and kind is absurd.”
Vacchiano also said that she hopes that attitudes in the University community toward dissenting opinions will change, and that people might be more open to civil discourse.
“I'm fine with people disagreeing with me,” she said. “I just wish that they would do so in a way that's conducive to making change.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.