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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Censorship Is Not The Solution

A man whose eyes and mouth are blocked by others. Initiatives like Stanford’s could lead to this type of reality. (Bill Kerr/Flickr)

We are living in a world in which language is becoming increasingly polarized. There has been a growing movement to scrub certain words and phrases from the English language. 

To a certain extent, this makes sense. Racist slurs, homophobic insults and other harmful language shouldn’t be used and ought to be prohibited in all types of establishments. While there are certain words that should be removed from our vocabulary, that treatment can’t apply to all types of words we categorize as inappropriate. 

Censorship can come in a variety of forms, some obvious and some not. One form in which censorship seems to have risen in popularity is through universities and schools, in which the banning of certain words is normally used as an attempt to be more inclusive. The most recent controversial example is Stanford University‘s released, and then withdrawn, “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.” 

The “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” is described as a “multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in [the Institute of Technology (IT)] at Stanford.” The goal of the project is to eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent and biased language, used in Stanford websites, as well as code. 

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The purpose of the website is to educate people about the possible impact of the words they use. It also includes a disclaimer that Stanford is not assigning levels of harm to the terms, and is not attempting to address all informal uses of language. 

The word list in itself is composed of different categories, the first being ableist, which means offensive language to those living with disabilities. The other categories include ageism, colonialism, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, violent and additional considerations. Each word that is going to be eliminated comes with an alternative word for it and the context for its removal. 

Some words have historical contexts that make them worth removing from our language, or are some type of slur that has passed unfiltered through society, some examples being “basket case” or “spaz.” These terms trivialize the experience of people living with disabilities.

Another example of a phrase that should be banned is the phrase “go off the reservation.” It has a historical context rooted in the violent removal of the Indigenous people from their land and the horrible consequences for them. 

The phrases and words which have context, implications and connotations that are offensive should be banned. However, this same reasoning cannot apply to all the other words and phrases which were listed on the website. 

Not being able to use the phrase “I killed it” when doing something incredible because it  “equates doing a good job with death” is outlandish. Saying someone committed suicide, instead of “died by suicide,” does not trivialize the experience of those suffering with mental disorders. 

Other examples include prisoner, in which the Stanford alternate word is “person who is/was incarcerated” and addict, which we should replace with “person who suffers from substance abuse disorder.” Does banning these words and replacing them with carbon copies genuinely make a difference? 

In volleyball, when one’s team spikes the ball on the opposing side so hard that it directly hits the ground, it is called a “kill.” Do we now have to change our sports vocabulary because it is “too violent?” But what purpose does that serve? Omitting the word “kill” from our vocabularies doesn’t diminish the amount of violence and crime in the U.S. Nor does it teach young children that violence isn’t the answer to one’s problems. 

Censoring language and phrases for the wrong reasons diminishes the fact that language is a constantly growing and evolving part of our lives. Certain words that used to mean something in the past have lost their meaning now, or their implications have simply lost impact throughout generations. Some words genuinely do not have a deeper meaning than what they are used for. Like the age-old adage, sometimes a rose is just a rose. There is no deeper meaning and no hidden intention. 

Eliminating words such as “war room,” “submit” and even the word “Karen” is not going to have a tangible positive impact on society. The word “Karen” is one of the words that Stanford wishes to eliminate because “it ridicules and demeans a certain group of people based on their behavior,” even though the word itself has become more of a running joke on social media and among Generation Z. 

Stanford’s initiative was eventually taken down after ridicule, mockery and widespread criticism. While its intent wasn’t a ban on speech, that was the message that had been conveyed. This is no isolated incident: that same message has been attempted several times throughout the years. 

As a society, instead of education and understanding, we are moving towards censorship. That won’t teach anyone why what they are doing is wrong and it certainly won’t lead to a more educated, understanding society. 

At the end of the day, if words must be censored, society should at least be fully educated on why certain words cannot be used. However, at the same time, we must also realize that certain words have lost their meaning and don’t carry the same weight they used to, or that they could unconsciously imply. 

Personally, if I get a perfect spike, I will continue calling it a “kill.” It’s not a violent cheer. It is because in the sport I play, it is a direct hit and oftentimes a point worthy of achievement, celebration and respect. 

By Elektra Gea-Sereti

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About the Contributor
Elektra Gea-Sereti
Elektra Gea-Sereti, Opinions Editor
Hi my name is Elektra and I am a senior plus the Opinions editor. I have been at Dateline since 9th grade, and my opinion articles range from social media trends to movie reviews. While not being opinionated can be strenuous, I do write the occasional sports, features, and food article. Outside of Dateline, you can find me on the volleyball court, or debating people in Mock Trial. 

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