Smith College Tells Students, Professors To Avoid Terms Like ‘Freshmen,’ ‘Preferred Pronouns,’ and ‘Foreign’

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Should people use terms like “freshmen,” “preferred pronouns,” and “foreign”?

Smith College says no.

The private women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, Massachusetts offers alternative suggestions to many otherwise-commonly-used terms on its “Smith Style Guide.”

“The Smith Style Guide is a writing reference for Smith-specific words and phrases and for maintaining consistency in college communications,” the school’s web site says. “It also guides users with general rules about usage, punctuation and capitalization.”

While the style guide offers grammar tips to students and staff — such as telling them boathouse and bookstore are one word — it also gives them words to avoid. 

For example, the guide tells students and staff to use the phrase “first-year students.” Right after the term, the guide says, “Avoid the word ‘freshmen’.”

It’s not the only term ending in “-man” or “-men” that the school wants students and staff to avoid.

When describing a chairman, Smith College doesn’t want people to use the word “chairman.”

Insteaid, it tells people to use “chair.”

“Avoid using ‘chairman’,” the guide says. “You could also use ‘presiding officer,’ ‘coordinator’ or ‘convener’.”

Additionally, the terms “upper-class students” and “upperclassmen” are on the list of words to avoid. 

“Avoid these terms,” the guide says. “When practical, replace with ‘returning students’ or ‘upper-level students’ or consider using ‘sophomores, juniors and seniors,’ if it doesn’t seem too wordy.”

The school also offers a pronouns policy. It tells students and staff that the term “preferred pronouns” is wrong and that they should call people by their preferred pronouns.

Here is what the pronoun section says:


pronouns: Use female pronouns when referring to Smith undergraduate students. (As stated in the admission policy established by the board of trustees.) If an individual uses a nonspecified pronoun, respect their wishes. Avoid references to “preferred” pronouns; refer to “pronouns” only. (“Preferred” suggests that other pronouns are also acceptable, while many individuals do not feel that way).


So what about referring to people from other countries as “foreign”?

Smith College says that’s wrong.

Instead, the school prefers the term “international students.”

“Use ‘international’ when referring to people (avoid the term ‘foreign’),” the Smith Style Guide says.

Additionally, “handicapped” is a no-go, according to the school’s style guide.

Here is what the section about disabled people says:


persons with disabilities, disabled person: Follow individual preference; some object to “people first” (“persons with …”) and prefer “identity-first” terminology because they see their see their disability as central to their identity. Do not use “the disabled,” “handicapped” or “the impaired.” The term “accessible” is preferred over “handicap-accessible.” “Developmentally disabled people” or “intellectually disabled” or “mentally disabled” are also preferred. Avoid euphemisms and terms that evoke pity, such as “victim of,” “afflicted with” or “suffers from.”


Smith College initially published its style guide on March 15, 2006, but it has been updated many times since. 

A spokesman for Smith College told NewBostonPost in an email message: “Entries in the Smith style guide are based on commonly used resources, including the Associated Press Stylebook.”


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