Michigan word police go too far

First Posted: 3/16/2015

Universities are known as centers of learning, facilitators of debate and nurturers of ideas. Once perhaps, these descriptors were accurate, but that’s not always the case any more. This is especially true at the University of Michigan: home of the vaunted “Maize and Blue.”

You see, in Ann Arbor, the university speech police has seen fit to create a list of forbidden words. The concept is highlighted across the U of M campus through the display of posters that kindly remind students not to utter words that may offend or hurt others. This “Inclusive Language Campaign” cost $16,000 to implement. Included on the list of words prohibited from being spoken: crazy, insane, gay, retarded, illegal alien, fag, and ghetto. Phrases such as, “I could just die,” are also considered out of bounds.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald eloquently explained that the campaign’s intent is to “help students understand that words can impact someone and to encourage a positive campus community.” The administration has also requested that students sign a pledge to use “inclusive language” and assist fellow students to understand its importance.

While the program has now been in effect for only one semester, students continue to be indoctrinated by signs that openly state, “Your Words Matter,” and questions like, “If you knew I grew up in poverty, would you still call it a ‘ghetto’?” One particular student who supports the campaign actually believes it will improve students’ day-to-day language by pointing out “words that are offensive.”

Although representatives of the campaign say little about its success, Fitzgerald defends it as “educational, not regulatory.” An ILC Facebook page has also been developed, highlighting a video on how to address a person by the correct pronouns, while promoting inclusive speech “in and out of the classroom.” Students living on campus are “urged” to participate in workshops that “bring bystander intervention skills in building safe, inclusive and respectful communities.” They even complete surveys, “reflecting on internal biases that may threaten an inclusive campus.”

Lost in this process is how ILC reconciles with the university’s policy on free speech, which “encourages open and vigorous discussion and strives to maintain an environment where the free exchange of ideas and opinions can flourish.” Despite clear evidence that speech is stifled in Ann Arbor, Fitzgerald speaks for the university when he says that ILC makes conversation “more constructive by respecting the views and perspectives of others and is good for everyone.”

Noted author George Orwell, who gave us “1984,” might disagree. In this classic work, Orwell introduces the reader to the concept of “Big Brother,” among others. His novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain), where war never ends, and the government spies on and manipulates its citizens, persecuting individualism and independent thinking as “thought crimes.”

Although Orwell wrote his masterpiece in 1949, he could have published it today. As the “Inclusive Language Campaign” evolves, how is it to be enforced? Will students feel compelled to report those using banned words under threat of discipline? Will a university court be established to prosecute those who use forbidden terms with loss of scholarships or expulsion? Will the use of banned speech be elevated to the level of a hate crime, leading to possible criminal prosecution? How long will it take for ILC to spread to other universities? Will the free exchange of ideas on college campuses ultimately become a thing of the past? What is to keep such policies from being enacted society-wide?

Political correctness can be seen across every facet of modern society, stretching into our lives in ways that Orwell himself likely couldn’t have conceived. ILC is but another effort in this regard, proving again that universities across the nation are more interested in indoctrination than education of students. Political correctness remains the elephant in the room as the greatest threat to freedom and our way of life. ILC is intended to shape the minds and attitudes of students, and its outcome will surely help determine America’s course for decades to come.

In days of old, youth were taught the well-known adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now, instead of simple but sensible approaches such as this, academic elitists and progressives seek to make the world right in every way for young adults instead of teaching basic tolerance. It is simply unfair to live in an often distasteful and imperfect world. U of M’s campaign to limit speech is truly a battle for the hearts and minds of the leaders of tomorrow and a direct attack on the constitutional guarantee of free speech that has always set America apart.

University of Michigan students, take a stand. You can start by checking your campus library for a copy of “1984.” That is if it’s not already been removed.

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