On Friday, online conservative publication The Daily Caller ran the attention-grabbing headline “Prof Bans Students From Saying ‘Husband’ Or ‘Wife’ Because It’s Not ‘Inclusive.’” Author Peter Hasson opens the article with the following sentence: “In just the latest instance of taxpayer-funded censorship, students in one University of Florida course have been banned from using words such as ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ in the classroom and risk losing points off their grade if they don’t comply.” “Taxpayer-funded censorship”? “University of Florida”? “Dad”?! Juicy, rage-inducing stuff, right? Let’s learn more: “In the syllabus for her ‘Creativity In Context’ class… UF professor Jennifer Lee informs students of her four-paragraph long classroom ‘communications policy’ that she says will enforce ‘ethical conduct’ in the classroom.” The controversial “ethical conduct” Hasson is speaking of refers to Lee’s provisions for inclusive language and behavior in the classroom. Such provisions include the substitution of gender-based words like boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife in favor of “partner” or ”significant other” and “family,” as to be “inclusive of alternative orientations and family structures.”
Also drawing Hasson’s ire is Lee’s “Safe Education Environment Policy,” which holds that “each student’s contributions of questions and answers are essential, any behavior or language that makes others feel unsafe or unwelcome in this classroom can and will not be tolerated. Examples range from simply interrupting or ignoring others... to overt harassment or intimidation with reference to race, gender identity, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or ability.”
Let’s be honest: Both this article and the syllabus it criticizes are pretty terrible. Hasson’s article is quick to use words like “comply,” “ban” and “required” when referring to Lee’s classroom conditions. In actuality, no such language appears in the sections highlighted, phrases like “Required Textbook” and “Required Supplies” excepted. Hasson is also the type of person to tweet things like “If Chelsea gets an abortion will you still call it a grandchild?” to Hillary Clinton, so, you know, not really the best arbiter for moral righteousness.
Meanwhile, the syllabus itself contains policies that are indisputably sensible, like restricting racial and sexual harassment. However, although undoubtedly written with only the best of intentions, several of the rules stipulated are yet another example of unnecessary language policing in the name of inclusivity and tolerance. Yes, there are individuals who do not conform to the gender binary or “traditional” relationship template set forth by mainstream American society, but prohibiting the use of inoffensive familial words not only fails to make a substantive or positive difference in the lives of, well, anyone, but also fails spectacularly at engendering individuals to become more open-minded and empathetic.
What’s more, “each student’s contributions of questions and answers are essential”? Uh, no: This reads like the work of a person who has never set foot in a college classroom. Although there is not a person alive that does not deserve a bare modicum of respect, and as wonderful as the exchange of diverse ideas is, college students have been known to say incredibly stupid things in the classroom. We’ve all heard them: “Why NOT fascism?” or, our personal favorite, “The Holocaust? Pssh, with that many Jews, Hitler would’ve been ran right outta Berlin!” But we digress. Both Hasson and Lee are unfortunate personifications of the cultural and social polarization that has poisoned America’s intellectual well. Yes, you can be a morally righteous person without answering to Judeo-Christian ideology, and no, those Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton memes are not sexist; Hillary’s just a panderer. Life operates in shades of gray: For the sake of both our sanity and our nation’s intellectual dignity, it’s time we figured that out.