Many institutions are said to function as a house of cards — an organization that is precariously structured. This might be the proper phrase for Stanford’s administration, but another apt descriptor is house of cowards. After about two days of outrage over the University’s new Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI), those behind the plan released a follow-up statement. What was its overall message? “Oops, just kidding!”
The update from Stanford’s Chief Information Officer, Steve Gallagher, states “the website does not represent university policy. It also does not represent mandates or requirements.” Gallagher’s post also reads the “website was created by, and intended for discussion within, the IT community at Stanford.” Well, in that case, someone should’ve told the initiative makers themselves! The original guide describes the initiative as one of the “actions prioritized in the Statement of Solidarity and Commitment to Action” (a multi-year plan launched in 2020 after the Black Lives Matter riots). This Solitary Statement (written by a joint group of Stanford professional committees) describes itself as a “plan that puts actions behind mere words.”
Let’s do a little recap… Apparently, the actual actions behind these words were to release a style guide so asinine that “American,” “he” and “she,” and even the liberal rallying cry “trigger warning” were on the list of non-PC words. The guide soon was ridiculed by thousands on social media, Elon Musk tweeted about it, and it even caught the ire of many liberals. It was then that university admins decided to huddle together and have the IT Department assert the guide was no longer a University initiative but simply a list of tacit suggestions.
The full message can be read below:
Either the ‘harmful language’ initiative was a well-intentioned mistake from the IT department or the flop of an initiative meant to reorganize basic communication procedures — ridding it of words or phrases that only a trivial group of the ultra-woke could find “problematic.” For Stanford, the situation is very likely the latter.
Interestingly enough, while the “update” is freely available for anyone to see, the guide is stuck behind a secure sign-on that is only available for those with a Stanford email. Those not affiliated with Stanford (an excellent example of person first language, as indicated by the guide!) might wonder why their access was revoked to a guide they could view 36 hours ago. That’s because Stanford decided to cover their tracks after feeling the heat on social media.
After failing in the public sphere, the ‘harmful language’ guide then became aspirational. The update statement states the guide's “aspiration, and the reason for its development is to support an inclusive community.” They aspire to use it someday in the future. In other words, it was a serious document but they won’t enact this speech guide now. But, ten years down the line when America could be woke enough (and sufficiently pro-censorship) to tolerate it, they will. Allegedly, this is because enforcement of the initiative means “supporting an inclusive community.”
Their biggest takeaway from the public's reaction was the following: “concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term ‘American.’ We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is the use of the term ‘American’ not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed. The intent of this particular entry on the EHLI website was to provide perspective on how the term may be imprecise in some specific uses, and to show that in some cases the alternate term ‘US citizen’ may be more precise and appropriate. But, we clearly missed the mark in this presentation.”
Though adding the word “American” to a list of harmful language is absurd, it shouldn’t be our main takeaway from the situation. The more important question is what kind of culture creates an “initiative” to change basic functions of human speech? Further, what kind of administration either encourages it or gives enough leeway to a bureaucratic IT committee that they try to enact it?
While the IT head released the statement — the real problem here is Stanford’s administration. Rather than scapegoating this scandal on IT alone, the university created the atmosphere and the conditions for the initiative to take place. It was a cowardly administration that allowed this document to be created and then didn’t even have the balls (another ‘harmful language’ violation) to stand behind it.
We should be a thorn in the side of Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Persis Drell until they take it down, secure sign-in or not. Numerous stories about deception have plagued Stanford in recent months, whether it’s our inability to recognize two imposter students for nearly a year, the numerous fraud scandals of Stanford affiliates, or scientific misconduct by our own president. This shouldn’t be the fourth act of the circus show that’s become Stanford news. We must demand better, or else the word “insane” won’t just be on a list of harmful language — it’ll be the perfect word to describe campus (if it isn't already).