The Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC)—a campus resource that provides education and support to students on topics relating to violence—released a “Suggested Language List” in August as a revision to their “Oppressive Language List” released back in June 2021, which has since been removed from the university’s website.
“PARC made immediate edits to the list after seeing the requests for changes in the petition circulating on social media. True to the spirit of the list itself, sharing knowledge about the impact of language is a community effort; feedback from other Brandeis students has helped and continues to help the list improve,” wrote Julie Jette, Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations, on behalf of PARC in an email to the Brandeis Hoot.
The list was intended to encourage students to avoid certain words and phrases that have a negative connotation or history. The Suggested Language List has since been removed due to the university’s principles on free speech and free expression, according to their webpage.
PARC provided suggestions for replacements for the words that they recommended students not use. This language list was noticed by many major news outlets, most of which received it negatively.
The list was broken up into five subcategories: violent language, identity-based language, language that doesn’t say what we mean, culturally appropriative language and person-first and identity-first.
Since its release, the list has moved from the university’s website and has been reestablished on an independent web page separate from the university, according to the Suggested Language List page. The list was not reflective of the university’s policies and therefore had to be moved to an independent website not affiliated with the university, according to the page.
According to the university’s free speech and free expression page, all members of the Brandeis community are allowed to: maximize free speech in a diverse community, develop skills to engage in difficult conversations, share responsibility, reject physical violence, distinguish between invited speakers and university honorees and abide by institutional restrictions.
On the revised Suggested Language List page, the university notes that the list was not a part of university policy; rather, it was a resource meant to provide information and suggestions to community members.
The independent webpage with the Suggested Language List contains the same five subcategories featured originally on the Brandeis website. The list remains as a tool for individuals to share information about language usage and intent, according to the page.
“We recognize that language is a powerful tool which can be used to perpetrate and perpetuate violence and oppression,” states the webpage.
Moving forward from this, Jette wrote on behalf of PARC, “We know the intentions of the students are good, wanting to provide suggestions for those who are concerned about the language they use with those who have been impacted by violence in their lives.”
Prior to the list and the page being removed, the website wrote, “PARC’s Suggested Language List* was developed, created and continues to be managed by students involved with PARC. Suggestions are brought forth by students who have been impacted by violence and students who have sought out advanced training for intervening in potentially violent situations.”
Sources like The Atlantic reported on the original list, writing, “We are being preached to by people on a quest to change reality through the performative policing of manners.” Fox News and the New York Post also commented on the list.
Students also had a negative reaction to the Language List. Sarah Kalinowski ’23 started a petition against the Language List, saying that some of the terms listed as “oppressive” were not oppressive at all.
Kalinowski’s biggest concern was with the term “mentally ill,” which was listed as a word to avoid.
“I think what really made me initially stop when I was first reading this was when I saw mentally ill listed as oppressive language because it is identity-first and not person-first,” Kalinowski said. “That is when I realized that I had to do something.”
Kalinowski also rejected “oppressive” terms like disabled person, victim and survivor (in terms of sexual assault), as she recognized these are preferred terminology for most rather than an offensive word.
PARC recently changed the list to reflect some of these concerns. The list is now called the “Suggested Language List,” and has some terms removed. This updated list also includes stars in slurs, rather than typing out the entire word as it was previously. Students can also make suggestions for the list on the PARC website.
When asked about the negative reception of the Suggested Language List, Jette wrote on behalf of PARC saying, “The reactions seem to reflect some misunderstanding of the intent of the list. To be clear: The list was never an official Brandeis policy, and no member of the university community was ever required to consult with or use the list.”
“Formerly known as the ‘Oppressive Language List,’ in August 2021 we retitled this list to center the suggested alternatives rather than the words and phrases that may cause harm,” reads the PARC website.
With the adjustments made to the list, expanding its content, the media picked up the story again with a negative reaction. The New York Post called the university an “ultra-woke college.” The Boston Herald and The College Fix also wrote about the list, citing that there was no university that is more “politically correct.”
Edit: An earlier version of this article stated that the term “mentally ill” was removed from the Suggested Language List. This was incorrect, as the term can still be found on the list.