In the upper-left corner of the nation, we are blessed with a progressive community that supports progressive language and cultural diversity. At Western specifically, we live in a liberal bubble, and we are expected by many of our peers to keep up with the wide variety of constantly evolving social phrasing. While it is a natural understanding that inclusive language should be embraced, it shouldn’t be taken as an insult if someone doesn’t utilize the proper language. These changes aren’t basic knowledge to everyone, and it’s hard to keep up.
Western is a mid-sized liberal arts university in the Pacific Northwest, and it definitely fits into predetermined stereotypes. Students are expected to be accepting and loving of everyone no matter what their identity is. We strongly believe that the large majority of people on Western’s campus accept people for who they are. That’s one of the joys of going to school where we do.
With that being said, many times as students here we feel like we are walking on eggshells. We have to be careful of the words we say in fear of offending someone. College is a place where all should feel comfortable expressing themselves how they want, which includes both sides of the coin. Freedom of speech means students who embrace a variety of appropriate pronouns and students who don’t are both entitled to express themselves how they please.
The terms “dude” and “you guys” have on occasion been described as harmful and exclusive to a specific gender. Perhaps they are. But they’ve been used as umbrella terms since our generation has existed, and neither term carries a derogatory or negative connotation, unless one purposely uses these terms with ill intent. Although changing these terms would be very positive for society, many people haven’t caught up with all of the recent changes to language or aren’t used to asking others what pronouns they prefer. If someone feels the need to explain those changes, it is best conveyed with understanding and kindness. Hopefully the other party would be receptive to this information, inspired by the good-natured delivery.
This kind of communication is what makes change. It requires an equal level of understanding from both parties. Umbrella terms that are masculine-based and used to refer to people or groups have been a part of the vernacular of most college students for their entire lives. As such, people don’t typically say “hey guys” with the goal of excluding other genders. We support the use of gender inclusive terminology and pronouns, but change will take time and understanding.
When people become defensive and assume they’re being attacked when non-gender inclusive terminology gets used and they lash out, they aren’t helping the larger issue at hand. When you attack someone back, they are going to be much less likely to accept what you have to say, and this is true for any situation. We are speaking from first-hand experience here.
We understand the importance of this terminology, and we understand that there needs to be a change, but this can’t be expected to happen immediately. When you’re used to using the same words for over 20 years, it’s difficult to completely change your diction in a matter of minutes. It takes time. That’s why all we ask is that instead of becoming angry when someone accidentally uses the wrong terminology, take this opportunity to educate them. We want this change as much as anyone on this campus, but it’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort, and spreading awareness through education is the starting point to this change.
The editorial board is composed of Anna Jentoft, Dylan Green, Brandon Stone and Stephanie Villiers.