The University of Michigan is a campus where ideas (and norovirus) spread like wildfire; Ann Arbor is a huge stage on which any student has the right to voice his or her own thoughts. Conversation is a powerful tool, and one that has the ability to influence an entire campus culture and the individual experiences of students. It is crucial, then, to understand the impact of your words and how they can mean so much more than what you originally intended. Here are five words commonly heard on campus that may change the way you use your own voice for the better.
This word is thrown around so carelessly and people don’t quite understand how hurtful (and sexist) it actually is. It is ordinarily used to describe someone, usually a girl, who is especially “promiscuous.” But why are girls so condemned for sleeping with as many guys as they want to? And why do guys get praised for doing the exact same thing? And why is this even a concern for anyone else other than those people directly involved? Girls, before you call another girl a slut, ask yourselves: is your romantic/intimate life public or private? Do you think it’s fair to judge someone and identify them based on their personal business? Should girls’ identities be defined by what they do with guys?
You’re not Lil Wayne. This may be devastating news. It may seem okay to say the N-word when you constantly hear it in your favorite songs, but it really isn’t (at all). Although many see it as a term of endearment or synonymous with “friend,” it is a word rooted in hate and racism. It is a word that was once used to express contempt for the entire African-American community, and that connotation still runs very deep. Please, for the sake of making all people of all races feel comfortable, pick another word to call your friend and maybe hum over that part in your favorite rap song.
Retarded is not synonymous for stupid, lame, or annoying. As you may know, “retard” is actually an outdated term to describe a mentally handicapped person, so it really shouldn’t be used in any circumstance; but, of course, it is. By describing something undesirable as “retarded,” you promote the idea that those with mental or physical disabilities are less valuable than able-bodied people. Being mentally or physically handicapped is probably one of the hardest obstacles imaginable, and, frankly, those living and thriving with disabilities should be admired and celebrated – not described using the same word that you call your least favorite professor.
You did not “rape” that exam. Your Uber driver didn’t look like a “rapist” just because he’s a middle-aged man. Rape is probably one of the biggest issues on college campuses right now and reducing it to a common word only makes it seem more acceptable in society. You did not physically/sexually assault and emotionally traumatize your test, and not all rapists look like the creepy guys in the movies – they can actually look like anyone you walk past on the Diag. The word “rape” should be used as carefully and as wisely as any of the words on this list out of respect for the survivors and for the gravity of the issue that is sexual assault.
Objects can’t be gay, songs can’t be gay, events can’t be gay, places can’t be gay; unless, of course, you’re describing them as lighthearted and carefree, but that’s beside the point. The class isn’t gay because the class doesn’t have a sexual orientation – and homosexuality definitely doesn’t represent negativity, just as heterosexuality doesn’t represent positivity. Imagine if everyone was like, “Ugh, that darty today was so straight!” It just wouldn’t happen – that’s because heterosexuality is normative and homosexuality is viewed as abnormal, or in extreme cases such as this, negative and unacceptable. Using the word “gay” to describe anything other than a homosexual person, especially in a negative way, is reducing the identity of millions of people down to an insult and is equating a type of love with unpleasantness.
Changing the language on campus can start with one simple decision to use more respectful, inclusive, and positive words in your day-to-day conversations. What you say matters; why not make every word count?
Images courtesy of: popsugar.com