Amherst flirts with Orwellian “language guide”

Last month, Amherst College’s office of diversity and inclusion issued a 36-page “Common Language Guide.” The document seeks to impose left-wing identity politics on the campus through the creation of a common way of talking about the left’s favorite issues. The document is truly Orwellian.

The “Common Language Guide” isn’t easy to find on the internet, but you can access it here. The document consists, as the name suggests, of an endless series of definitions — 36 pages of them.

Nearly all of the terms are politically charged. By defining them, Amherst’s diversity and inclusion gang seeks to foreclose debate.

Among the hundreds of words and phrases defined in the Guide are common ones like discrimination, equality, power, disability, and race. These have been expropriated from ordinary usage to become instruments of the left.

Other terms have long been staples of leftist discourse. For example, social justice, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and hegemony.

Still others are newly-minted terms that should be defined or discarded. They include cissexism, misogynoir, AFAB/AMAB, androcentrism, Cisehetero, deadname, and XTX. (I’d include others, but spellcheck is having a nervous breakdown). I vote for discarding them.

Here is a small sampling of the definitions:

REVERSE OPPRESSION: There is no such thing as reverse oppression. Oppression is predicated upon access to institutional power. Marginalized communities do not have access to institutional power. For example,
women can be as prejudiced as men, but women cannot be “just as sexist as men,” because they do not hold political, economic, and institutional power.

COLORBLINDNESS: The ideology that believes the best way to end racial discrimination is through treating individuals the same, regardless of race, culture and ethnicity. This belief, however, ignores historical and structural factors that benefit white people and disadvantage indigenous, black and all other people of color. “Colorblindness” does nothing to address inequity, since it does not acknowledge the impacts.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: Theft and exploitative use of cultural elements such as hairstyles, attire, symbols, language or art attire for profit and/or commodification without historical/cultural understanding or respect for their value in the original culture.

LEGAL/ILLEGAL: Highly racialized term to describe a person’s presence in a nation without government-issued immigration status. Not an appropriate noun or adjective to describe an individual. Often misused to designate certain undocumented members of a society (specifically people of color) to deny their contributions, right to exist and recognition as people within certain national boundaries.

RACE: Race is a social construction (not a biological phenomenon) developed by European (white) scientists intended to rank humans based on perceived biological differences rooted in appearance, skin
tone and ancestral homelands. With the intent to subjugate particular communities, race “scientists” asserted that whites/Europeans were the most evolved and blacks/Africans were the least evolved, with
Asians existing in the middle. The idea of race is intricately linked with the practice of white supremacy, which continues to have damaging impacts on communities of color globally.

I hope we’re all clear about this.

The Common Language Guide was too much even for Amherst’s president, Biddy Martin. She issued this statement:

Creating a sense of belonging on a campus is difficult and complicated work. It is also vital to student success and the success of the entire community. I know of no educational institution that would claim to have succeeded completely in the effort. Missteps are inevitable.

The “Common Language Document” produced by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and circulated yesterday at Amherst takes a very problematic approach. The document defines terms in an effort to assist people in talking with one another about their identities and positions. The motivation of those who generated the definitions is understandable. They were responding to questions from people who wanted to know better how historically underrepresented groups and individuals think about their identities and positions.

The job of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is to support students in their academic aspirations by helping create a welcoming environment, one in which members of the community understand and respect one another’s backgrounds and perspectives. But when the approach assumes campus-wide agreement about the meaning of terms and about social, economic, and political matters, it runs counter to the core academic values of freedom of thought and expression. I was not aware that the document was being produced and I did not approve its circulation. It cuts against our efforts to foster open exchange and independent thinking. It is not a formal college document and will not be used as one.

Awareness and understanding of backgrounds and experiences other than one’s own are vital. Using language that conveys respect for those differences is part of building community. But prescribing a particular language and point of view is anathema.

The president’s statement leaves unanswered the questions of how a document like this could have been issued without her consent and what action (if any) she will take against her speech police (her description of the document as merely “problematic” and her claim that the document’s intent was benign suggest that she will take none).

It’s also fair to ask how Amherst came to employ a squadron that indulges in the “anathema” of “prescribing a particular language and point of view.”

The diversity and inclusion gang now claims that the document did not reflect the view that everyone on campus should use any particular language or share a point of view. Nonsense. “Common language” means that words should be used in the same way by everyone.

Amherst’s Common Language Guide should be viewed as a salvo in the left’s fight to seize control of our language, and hence our culture and politics. The failure to make the Guide stick this time around should not be regarded as a true defeat.

Sooner or later, a college president at a relatively prestigious college will probably be okay with the issuance of a document like Amherst’s, albeit with a few edits. Indeed, sooner or later, someone who helped produce Amherst’s document may find her way into a position where she can impose her Orwellian vision.

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