‘Picnic,’ ‘Congressman,’ and ‘Walk-In’ Constitute Oppressive Language, Brandeis University Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/06/25/picnic-congressman-and-walk-in-constitute-oppressive-language-brandeis-university-says/

What do the words “picnic,” “congressman,” “policeman,” and “freshman” and phrases like “killing it,” “trigger warning,” and “walk-in” have in common?

They constitute oppressive language, according to the Brandeis University Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center.

Brandeis is a private college in Waltham, Massachusetts where tuition and mandatory fees for the 2021-2022 school year will total $60,006.

The department has five main categories under which it classifies so-called “oppressive language”:  violent language, identity-based language, language that doesn’t say what we mean, culturally appropriative language, and person-first alternatives.

So what’s wrong with “picnic,” according to the department? It’s racist and constitutes violent language. The department suggests that, instead, people call it outdoor eating.

“The term picnic is often associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating, referring to them as picnics or other terms involving racial slurs against Black people,” it says.

As for words like “congressman,” “policeman,” and “freshman,” they aren’t gender-inclusive enough, the school says. Yet the problem isn’t that they exclude women.

“These examples either lump all people under masculine language or within the gender binary (man or woman), which doesn’t include everyone,” it says.

The alternatives offered for these words are “police officer,” “congressperson,” and “first year” (second year, third year, and fourth year for older students).

Other identity-based terms highlighted by the university’s prevention-advocacy-resource center include “walk-in,” “lame,” “crazy,” “wild,” and “insane” in the ableist language subcategory. For crazy/wild/insane, the department suggests that people say “that’s bananas.” For “lame,” it recommends “uncool” or “disappointing.” And instead of “walk-in”, it recommends “drop-in” — because “walk-in” implies that some can walk.

“Ableist language contributes to stigmas about and trivializes the experiences of people living mental health conditions,” it says.

Meanwhile, both “trigger warning” and “killing it” made their way into the violent language category.

The university department recommends that instead of saying “killing it,” that people instead go with “great job!” or “awesome!”

“If someone is doing well, we don’t need to equate that to murder!,” the advisory says.

The department has a similar complaint about “trigger warning,” instead suggesting that people use “content note” or “drop-in.”

“The word ‘trigger’ has connections to guns for many people; we can give the same head’s up using language less connected to violence,” it says.

An example of oppressive language from the “language that doesn’t say what we mean” category is “everything going on right now.” The Brandeis department recommends alternatives like “police brutality,” “protests,” “BLM,” and “COVID-19” — and tells students to “name what you are referring to!”

“Being vague about important issues risks miscommunication and can also avoid accountability,” it says.

Having a spirit animal isn’t O.K., either. The Brandeis department recommends phrases like “favorite animal” or “animal I would most like to be” since the phrase falls under the culturally appropriative language category, in its view.

“In some cultural and spiritual traditions, spirit animals refer to an animal spirit that helps guide and/or protect a person through a journey; equating this with an animal you like strips the term of its significance,” it says.

What about “person-first” language?

“Person-first language frames people’s activities, attributes, and more as a part of the person rather than the whole person,” it says. “Person-first language helps us resist defining people by just one thing about them. It is important to note that some people do claim these identities and labels, in which case you can mirror their language.”

So instead of “addict,” “prostitute,” and “homeless person,” the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center wants students to use phrases like “person with a substance use disorder,” “person who engages in sex work,” and “person experiencing housing insecurity.”

Here is what the Brandeis web site says is the reason the department exists:


Providing education, empowerment and support related to violence, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking.

The Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) is a confidential, student-centered resource serving members of the Brandeis community who have been impacted by violence and those who want to contribute to the anti-violence movement.


Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center director Sarah Berg and Brandeis University executive director of media relations Julie Jette could not be reached for comment on Thursday.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.