Insensitive edit

This letter is in response to the Feb. 26 editorial entitled “Discuss more important issues.”

While I agree that the Freshman English Committee made a wise decision in giving students the right to decide whether or not to use gender-inclusive language, I do so for very different reasons than the obviously misinformed Editorial Board of the Northern Star.

The editors state that, while students may run into gender stereotyping issues, “the whole concept seems rather minor.” This implication—that gender stereotype issues are rarely encountered and should therefore be dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant—is utterly reprehensible. The prevalence of language which excludes, degrades or otherwise treats women as “second-class” is such that it would take a conscious effort to not recognize this omnipresent phenomenon.

In fact, numerous researchers have clearly refuted the notion that everyone somehow intuitively understands that “generic” terms (e.g., mailman and chairman) make equal reference to both sexes. For this reason, it is imperative that students be taught how to best express what they really mean.

Nevertheless, my agreement with the decision of the English Committee is due to my firm belief in our constitutional right to free speech. When students use sexist language with the full awareness of the implicit messages they are conveying, I do not believe that they should be penalized with a lowered grade.

At some point, sexists will no longer be able to hide under the guise of “traditional language usage,” and, at that time, will be exposed for what they really are. Once this occurs, we will be able to discuss the core issues of sexism and gender (in)equality in a more open, meaningful and productive manner. Until then, however, we must hold people responsible for what they say. Subtle word changes do make a difference, and this fact deserves recognition.

Incidentally, the editors’ remarks concerning the terms “student” and “coed” were incorrect. Because the term “coed” has a frivolous connotation which implies that students who are female are “exceptions” (which is not the case—more women are currently enrolled in U.S. universities than men), the “PC” term is simply “student.”

To illustrate the impact these different terms can have, consider the DeKalb Nite Weekly’s feature, “Coed of the week.” This “feature” presents photographs of young women and clearly emphasizes physical appearance to the exclusion of other attributes these women might possess. However, if the feature were to be called “Student of the Week,” how appropriate would this exclusive emphasis on appearance be? The term “coed” is degrading and, in a sense, gives people “permission” to objectify the women who model for this publication. If the term “student” were used, however, people might be forced to consider these women as fellow human beings.

That is what “PC” is all about—giving basic respect to all human beings regardless of race, religion, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation. It is a shame the editors of a newspaper at an institution of higher learning could be so insensitive to such an important issue. What are they afraid of, anyway?

Joy Muehlenbein


HFR-Family and Indiv. Development