Things You’re Not Supposed To Say At Amherst College

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Should you use terms like “freshman,” “Latino,” “upperclassmen,” or “special needs”?

Amherst College advises its communications staff against it, according to the school’s Office of Communications. The private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts features an editorial style guide for its press releases and news items, which was published online on May 30, 2018.

“In general, the Amherst College Office of Communications follows the Associated Press Stylebook for its publications,” the school’s web site says. “The style guide below covers points that are of particular concern at Amherst, as well as exceptions we make to AP style.”

The guide views the term “upperclassmen” to be sexist, and the term “upperclass” to be classist, and urges staff to avoid both when referring to students at the upper levels of progression. Here is what it says:


upperclass students  This term refers to students in the sophomore, junior and senior classes. However, it can be erroneously interpreted as referring to students from higher socioeconomic classes. For that reason, avoid using it except when necessary. In many cases, “sophomores, juniors and seniors” is an effective substitute. Do not use  “upperclassman” or “upperclassmen.”


While the guide advises people to use terms like “sophomore,” “junior,” and “senior,” “freshman” and the plural form “freshmen” do not make the cut. Instead, says the school:  Use “first-year students.”

“We generally use the term ‘first-year student(s)’ or ‘first-year(s),’ rather than ‘freshman’ or ‘freshmen,'” the style guide says.

The guide also encourages people to use the term “Latinx,” especially when talking about a specific major that the school offers:


Latinx and Latin American Studies  This is the name of an interdisciplinary program major established at Amherst in 2017. “Latinx” is a gender-neutral or gender-inclusive term used instead of “Latino” or “Latina.”


And the guide has specific guidelines it advises staff to use when referring to people with disabilities. Among the guidelines:  avoid using the term “special needs.”

Here is what the disability section says:


disability  As with other personal details or aspects of identity, mention a person’s disability or medical condition only if it is relevant to the story or to the purpose of the document. If possible, ask the person how they would prefer their condition to be named or described (e.g., “blind” vs. “visually impaired” vs. “low vision”; “autistic person” vs. “person with autism”). Use neutral, nonjudgmental terminology; avoid using euphemisms or phrases that connote pity (e.g., “disabilities” rather than “special needs”; “They have epilepsy” rather than “They suffer from epilepsy”; “She uses a wheelchair” rather than “She is confined to a wheelchair”). Services, objects and architectural features colloquially called “handicapped” or “disabled” or “special” can often more accurately be described in terms of accessibility (e.g., “accessible parking,” “wheelchair-accessible restrooms”).


In addition to specific words the guide advises wants staff to use or not use, the guide also tells people how to deal with gender.

For example, the guide urges staff to use people’s perferred pronouns:


Make an effort to ask about and use every person’s correct pronouns when speaking and writing. “They,” “them” and “their(s)” are acceptable not only as plural pronouns (as in “The students all said they would return to their dorms”), but also as singular pronouns for a person whose gender is unknown (“Someone left their phone behind when they exited the building”) or for a person who specifically uses those pronouns (“Taylor remembers the day they received their acceptance letter from Amherst”).


The guide tells staff to not refer to people by a name they previously used. This is known as “deadnaming” by pro-transgenderism activists. 

“If someone you are writing about has changed their name, use only their current name; don’t mention the previous name without the person’s permission,” the guide reads. “Some people may be uncomfortable with any references to their former names. In some cases, revealing a previous name may undermine a person’s privacy or safety.”

A spokesman for Amherst College could not be reached for comment on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday this week. 


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