Monday, March 10, 2014

'More Than Words' campaign sparks debate at Macalester College

In August of 2013, Macalester College's Department of Multicultural Life announced its "More Than Words" campaign. The school kicked off the campaign with this video, which featured testimonials from students about the power of words.

"Words can have a huge impact on people," noted one student in the video. "We've all heard of the saying, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,' and as you grow up you learn, that's not true."

"The words that people say often have a negative impact and the other person doesn't even know it," added Dean of Students Jim Hoppe in another video.

However, some advocates of the More Than Words campaign speak very broadly about their efforts.

"Our culture is heterosexist, it's racist, it's patriarchal. It's transphobic, homophobic, ageist, ableist. All these -isms, right? And all these different kinds of inequality," SooJin Pate, a Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies, said in another video. "Our language... not only reflects that culture but also creates it."

In response, the Department of Multicultural life has blanketed the walls of Macalester College with posters that call on students to eliminate certain words from their vocabulary.

Among the included words are "crazy" and "derp," as seen in the poster below.

Instead, the poster calls on students to replace those words with "person with a mental health condition" or "person with a learning or cognitive disability."

Similarly, the campaign recommends students eliminate the word "illegal alien" from their vocabulary.

The poster suggests describing such individuals as a "person living in the country without legal permission" or "unauthorized migrant."

A full list of words can be found on Macalester's website at the 'More Than Words' campaign page; the list includes "spaz," "lame," and "hebe-jebes."

Some students have spoken out against 'More Than Words.'

"Allowing expression while addressing hateful words is not impossible: a focus on intent over content and a healthy dose of good faith helps," Jeff Garcia '14 said in an op-ed to The Mac Weekly. "No sinkhole will swallow Kagin if we ditch this passive-aggressive approach that favors the viewpoints only universal to a few groups."

Other students defend the campaign.

"Regardless of whether we think 'crazy' is slang doesn’t justify its use," Brett Campbell '15 noted in another op-ed. "Terms like 'illegal alien' are current politically charged words, but to dismiss the etymology and history behind the word 'crazy' along with the implications of its use do not demonstrate a willingness to be cognizant of its potential harm."

"This campaign would not exist if these words were not offensive," Jane Hornsby, Editor of The Mac Weekly's Opinion section, added. "[W]hile our positions of privilege may not allow us to see the ways in which each of these words has the power to hurt, it is our job as students and citizens to trust the voices that tell us they do."

Macalester has faced significant criticism over its speech policies on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights on Campus [FIRE] has rated the school's speech codes "Red," the worst rating a college can receive.

"Now that I have attended Mac for just over two years, I recognize its tolerance policy for what it truly is: hypocritical," Maddy Jasper '15 said in an op-ed to The Mac Weekly. "The majority of Macalester community members, students and professors alike, are very accepting of those who share the same liberal and progressive opinions, but if someone steps forward opposing their views, they are made to look ignorant and discriminatory."

In 2011 Macalester was ranked the most liberal college in America by the Princeton Review. Last year, the school dropped to #7 in those rankings.

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