'Male' and 'Female' OK: Citing Free Speech Concerns, Washington State University Revises Syllabi

By Mark Judge | September 1, 2015 | 3:48pm EDT
Washington State University Interim President Daniel J. Bernardo (Washington State University)

As classes are beginning for a new school year, Washington State University is revising several class syllabi due to concerns over free speech.

"Over the weekend, we became aware that some faculty members, in the interest of fostering a constructive climate for discussion, included language in class syllabi that has been interpreted as abridging students’ free speech rights," WSU Interim President Daniel J. Bernardo said August 31. "We are working with these faculty members to clarify, and in some cases modify, course policies to ensure that students’ free speech rights are recognized and protected.”

Several professors at Washington State University had course guides advising incoming students to avoid certain terms.

Professor Selena Lester Breikss teaches “Women & Popular Culture” at WSU. On her syllabus she informs students that they risk failing if they use “oppressive and hateful language” – such as “referring to women/men as females or males”:

Use of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, classist, or generally offensive language in class or submission of such material will not be tolerated. (This includes “The Man,” “Colored People,” “Illegals/Illegal Aliens,” “Tranny” and so on - or referring to women/men as females or males) If I see it or hear it, I will correct it in class since it can be a learning moment for many students. Repeated use of oppressive and hateful language will be handled accordingly – including but not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and - in extreme cases - failure for the semester.

The final project for “Women & Popular Culture” is called “Cultural Jamming.” It involves both a paper and creating an advertisement: “Culture Jamming was originated by guerilla anti-consumerist social movements to call attention to the social, political, economic, and cultural costs of conspicuous consumption and unfettered capitalism.”

Professor John Steamas teaches “Introduction to Multicultural Literature” at WSU. “Reflect your grasp of history and social relations by respecting shy and quiet classmates and by deferring to the experiences of people of color,” the course outline says.

In “Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies,” students would have their grade on a paper lowered one point for each use of the terms “illegal aliens” and illegals.”

In Michael Johnson Jr.’s “Race and Racism in U.S. Popular Culture” class students are required to “acknowledge” existence of various oppressions, including “heterosexism.”

"No student will have points docked merely as a result of using terms that may be deemed offensive to some,” said President Bernardo. “Blanket restriction of the use of certain terms is not consistent with the values upon which this university is founded."

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