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UNH guide: The term 'American' is politically incorrect

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 29. 2015 12:29PM
The University of New Hampshire plans to enroll up to 1,400 new international students in coming years to bring more diversity and money to its Durham campus. (Union Leader File)

University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston on Wednesday distanced himself and the university from "bias free language" guidelines that cautioned against using many everyday terms, including the word "American."

In a statement issued Wednesday, Huddleston said the guidelines, which appear on the UNH website, are not university policy.

"I am troubled by many things in the language guide, especially the suggestion that the use of the term ‘American' is misplaced or offensive," Huddleston said. "The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses.

"It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be 'sensitive' proves offensive to many people, myself included," Huddleston said.

This week, two blogs that follow university issues wrote about the guidelines, which discourage use of words and phrases including "American," "healthy," "rich" and "older people."

University spokesman Erika Mantz said the Bias Free Language Guide was written in 2013 by "a small group of community members."

Student papers are not graded based on the guidelines, and faculty are not bound to follow it, Mantz said.

The guide lists about 50 language proscriptions in categories dealing with age/class/size; ability/disability status; race/ethnicity/culture/immigrant status; sexual orientation/gender equality; women/gender.

The UNH website said the effort is meant to "invite inclusive excellence" at UNH.

"An integral part of UNH's mission is to continue to build an inclusive learning community, and the first step toward our goal is an awareness of any bias in our daily language," reads the introduction to the guidelines. "As we begin to understand bias, we explore the truths of hierarchy and oppression. "

Some examples:

• It's OK to say "people of advanced age" or "old people," but not "older people, elders, seniors, senior citizen."

• Don't use "rich," use "people of material wealth." "Being rich gets conflated with a sort of omnipotence; hence, immunity from customs and the law. People without material wealth could be wealthy or rich of spirit, kindness, etc."

• Use "other sex." The term "opposite sex" is outdated.

The guide sometimes doesn't live up to its own rules.

Its example of a micro-assault — saying "'dogs smell funny' to a blind person using a guide dog" — is a violation of its rule on how to refer to the visually impaired: "person who is blind or visually impaired."

A micro-aggression is a "subtle, often automatic, stereotypical, and insensitive behavior or comment or assumption about a person's identity, background, ethnicity, or disability."

According to the UNH website, the Women's Commission, a 1990s group, inspired the conversation about accuracy and creativity in language with its "Guide to Non-Sexist Language."

The website said it received input from Mobility International, the American Psychological Association, GLAAD and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mantz said it is unknown who was consulted because the guide is not official UNH policy.

And by the afternoon, the UNH webpage included a disclaimer that read: "The views expressed in this guide are NOT the policy of the University of New Hampshire."

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, released a statement Wednesday criticizing the guide.

"The University System of New Hampshire should concentrate on educating students to compete in the 21st century economy rather than taking political correctness to farcical levels," he said.

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