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Leibee and Ortiz: We are still learning about inclusive language, just like everyone else

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual authors only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

This summer, a draft of Colorado State University’s inclusive language guide was leaked. This guide was a work in progress, and it is not an official policy nor was it officially published. The draft has gotten a lot of negative feedback — especially because two of the listed words to avoid were “American/America.”

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Tony Frank, CSU chancellor, released a statement saying: “The group of people working on a preliminary draft considered encouraging people to use ‘U.S. citizen’ instead of American when referring to people from the U.S., as there are several geographic regions in the Americas. They decided against this on their own and deleted that from the draft before it was ever finalized or circulated to campus. Why that information is being circulated now as current or factual is unclear.”

Since the inclusive language guide was released, the two of us have been contacted by many members in the community due to our respective columns written about inclusive language last year. The reality is we are not experts — we’re still learning about inclusive language, how to navigate it in our society and how it affects our University.

Katrina’s Response 

Every time inclusive language is brought up at CSU, my writing and my name will be brought into the picture. This is a responsibility I accepted when I wrote my first column, although I never expected how big it would become.

Some see me as that naive freshman that used shallow reporting tactics to defend a misinformed opinion and intentionally do harm. To others, I am just the writer that finally started a long-awaited conversation. We are all the villain in someone’s story.

I will always stand by that first column because the information wasn’t manipulated, the words weren’t twisted to make my own ideas the right ideas and the writing came from a young freshman that was just getting started at CSU. I can guarantee I will not be the last freshman to come to CSU and question inclusive language, even if I only questioned it for 600 words.

That being said, I am not the same person that wrote that column, and I actually do intentionally use a lot of inclusive language every day. My ideas have changed, and I have had more education and new experiences that have altered my perspective, but the opinion I held in the original column is still valid.

I could write a new column on this topic every week because that is how quickly people change and their opinions shift. I also think there is more to say about inclusive language every day. There will never be a completely finished inclusive language guide because it is something that is always changing.

Controversies aside, I don’t want to be the only one speaking about this. I want people from different gender identities, races, sexualities, ethnicities, etc. to write and speak about this. I am only one individual, so clearly I can’t speak for everyone, and I don’t ever want to. Rather than bantering in the comments or making generalizations about each other, let’s just talk. Inclusive language is a new development in our society, and just like everyone else, I’m still learning. 

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Yes, people have come after the University for the draft, but there are always going to be people who disagree with a university’s ideals. The University should stand by its beliefs of inclusiveness and defend the intent of that original document — the good intent of that original draft. They shouldn’t quake in the face of criticism from others, blaming their own student media for publishing the draft and labeling student journalists as the bad guys.

People will forever take that column and set it on fire, picking it and me apart until we’re both dying on this hill. However, I believe that is the responsibility that comes with being a journalist, especially an opinion columnist.

We want to show people that they aren’t alone in their thoughts and feelings about things. We are supposed to be the most critical thinkers and question the ideas that are only ever seen as fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, understanding that life is a lot more complex than that.

When the next freshman comes to CSU and doesn’t agree with the inclusive language guide and wants to say something, I don’t want them to be criticized for it or labeled by people that don’t know them as the shallow reporter who intentionally mischaracterizes people and things. It’s a heavy label that I have to carry, although it’s untrue.

The only thing I can ask as an opinion columnist is for people to read my writing and understand that they’re not alone in their thoughts, and someone held their same opinion before at their stage in life. I ask that people have the open mindedness to understand a person and a viewpoint opposite of their own, although it may be difficult.

The group of people working on a preliminary draft considered encouraging people to use ‘U.S. citizen’ instead of American when referring to people from the U.S., as there are several geographic regions in the Americas. They decided against this on their own and deleted that from the draft before it was ever finalized or circulated to campus. Why that information is being circulated now as current or factual is unclear.”

-Tony Frank, CSU Chancellor

Kenia’s Response

In November of 2018, I wrote an article about how CSU embraces inclusive language. I wrote this article in response to Leibee’s article discussing how inclusive language at CSU has gone too far.

It’s shocking to be told that words we have used all of our lives are considered non-inclusive. However, the First Amendment in the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

With that being said, no one is forcing inclusive language on anyone at CSU or prohibiting the use of non-inclusive language. To not use inclusive language is a person’s choice. No one can force anyone to practice or believe in something they don’t. There would be no point in expecting all students to use inclusive language at CSU because off campus, students will use whatever language they want.

Isabel Brown, a CSU graduate who works for PragerU, states that even though CSU’s guide is not an outright ban, it threatens free speech on campus. As mentioned in my previous article, I support the use of and growing conversation regarding inclusive language — yet I respect and can see where Brown is coming from.

The use of inclusive language helps to stop the reinforcement of stereotypes and the continuous cycle of oppression. The guide was drafted to serve as simply that: a guide and an educational resource for those interested.

The draft offered explanations as to why its listed phrases/words are to be avoided by giving a brief history of the phrase/word and who it affects. Furthermore, the guide also offered alternatives that still get the original point across. 

It’s also important to note that not every phrase/word that was listed insults everyone in the mentioned community. One paper can not speak for everyone — but it still holds value even if it speaks for one.

Most of the backlash regarding the guide, and inclusive language in general, is that it’s making common words insulting.

Just because a phrase/word is common doesn’t mean it’s right. There are plenty of things in our country, and our world, that are common but not right.

According to the Linguistic Society of America’s guidelines for inclusive language, inclusive language is used to “avoid past pitfalls or habits that may unintentionally lead to marginalization, offense, misrepresentation or the perpetuation of stereotypes.”

I, along with many others at CSU, do use inclusive language, yet we are aware that not everyone does or wants to as well. I respect those who don’t want to use inclusive language and in no way will attempt to force them. However, I expect the same respect in return.

Said respect includes not referring to people affected by non-inclusive language as weak or sensitive — or referring to those who use inclusive language as “people pleasers” or telling them to toughen up. The people who use inclusive language are individuals who are willing to go out of their way to understand the impact of their words and change their vocabulary.

If inclusive language offends you or you feel limited/restricted because of it, don’t worry — you won’t be expelled from CSU for not using it.

However, keep in mind that you will most likely be in a situation where the lack of inclusive language will lead to uncomfortable situations. It is in your best interest to learn about it or be open to it.

Even though the guide was a draft, that does not mean that the expanding of inclusive language is going to stop. If your response to inclusive language is to be defensive or mocking, even when it is not being forced on you and you expect to be respected without giving respect back, then you will be left behind as the world continues to change without you.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @KatrinaLeibee.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @Kenia_Ortiz_.

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Katrina Leibee
Katrina Leibee, Editor-in-Chief
Katrina Leibee is serving as The Rocky Mountain Collegian's editor in chief for the 2021-22 academic year. Leibee started at The Collegian during the fall of her freshman year writing for the opinion desk. She then moved up to assistant opinion editor and served as the opinion director for the 2020-21 academic year. Leibee is a journalism and political science double major, but her heart lies in journalism. She enjoys writing, editing and working with a team of people to create the paper more than anything. Ask anyone, Leibee loves her job at The Collegian and believes in the great privilege and opportunity that comes with holding a job like this. The biggest privilege is getting to work with a team of such smart, talented editors, writers, photographers and designers. The most important goal Leibee has for her time as editor in chief is to create change, and she hopes her and her staff will break the status quo for how The Collegian has previously done things and for what a college newspaper can be. From creating a desk dedicated entirely to cannabis coverage to transitioning the paper into an alt-weekly, Leibee hopes she can push the boundaries of The Collegian and make it a better paper for its readers and its staff. Leibee is not one to accept a broken system, sit comfortably inside the limits or repeat the words, "That's the way we've always done things." She is a forward thinker with a knack for leadership, and she has put together the best staff imaginable to bring The Collegian to new heights.

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