Inclusive Language and Students as Customers

Inclusive Language and Students as Customers November 28, 2012

I had my attention drawn to a rather strange article by a Butler student. The article begins by referring to a professor requiring the use of inclusive language – that is, not saying “he” when you mean “he or she” and not using “mankind” when you mean “humankind,” and so on.

But the student then goes on to complain as though they are being asked not merely to recognize the existence of people of different genders in mixed groups, but to somehow think themselves into the shoes of those who are different than them.

What is most disturbing is the conclusion, where the student suggests that they are paying tuition not to be taught, trained, educated, provoked, and held accountable for learning during their time as students, but because they are “paying customers” they should – and I quote – “speak as I always have and conduct myself in the way I deem fit.”

Click through to read the whole thing, and tell me if you find it as bizarre, misguided, and depressing as I do that a student has so badly misunderstood what a university is for and what it means to be a student at one.

Next he’ll be saying that, since he is paying the university, he should be able to write as ungrammatically as ever. The logic is the same.

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  • The comments are even worse than the article. Sheesh.

    • An example:

      Being an American is racist now. We are not to have pride in our own country.
      We are the one world order. Celebrate diversity my biscuits. The
      communists have envaded (sic) America, and the youth are falling for it hook,
      line, and sinker.

      All of this is prophesied in the Book of Revelations (sic).

      35 likes, 0 dislikes (except me).

  • -t.

    That is a student who misunderstands the reason behind the requirement (which is certainly not a universal for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but rather for a particular class) and appears to take a willful stance in maintaining an ignorance. Fits in to a class of students that is not here for an education, but for vocational training.

  • I think the English langage is deficient (like many others) in regards there is no word to indicate a human person of any two genders, to be used for “he” when “he” is used to mean “he or she”.
    If I were a woman, yes, I would be very annoyed to be referred as a “he”, when “he” does not preclude a female person.
    Yes, “man” should always be substituted by “human” when “man” is not limited as meaning only male human.
    Actually, I would propose the creation of a word to replace “he” when this word includes woman also.
    Any ideas? Maybe “hum” (from human) or “per” (from person) or “heshe”.
    “heshe” looks good to me.

    • arcseconds

      How are you going to decline heshe?

      Best possibility in my opinion is some variant of Spivak pronouns, formed by dropping the ‘th’ from ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘theirs’. So ‘ey’, ’em’, ‘eir’ etc.


      *) they, them etc. already used as a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, so it piggy-backs on an existing use

      *) automatically gets English phonology and morphology

      *) all speakers of English can form the declension by learning a simple rule

      *) monosyllabic, just like the existing third-person pronouns.

      I think I saw a form of them where you just drop the ‘t’, so ‘hem’, ‘hey’, ‘heir’ etc. I like that even better because it preserves the sounds of the existing singular pronouns.

  • As much as I would like to see traditional notions of what it means to be a student at a university being upheld, I fear that the “paying customer” model is a reality that cannot simply be ignored.

    While I have no problem with requiring students to use inclusive language in order to think in ways that they have not thought before, describing it as a “fundamental issue of social justice” does strike me as a bit much (although the article isn’t precisely clear about what the professor said on that point).

    • Students (or more often, their parents) are “paying customers”, but this does not suggest what this student thinks it suggests.

      Students pay for the teachers, classrooms, library access, and many other resources made available to college students. However, they do not pay for their grade; and they do not pay to predetermine the requirements for receiving a degree.

      I may pay for law books, but I cannot pay for a passing grade on the bar exam, and I cannot pay to change the questions on the exam.

      • In our consumer oriented culture, we have gotten in the habit of applying the paying customer paradigm to many relationships–e.g.,doctor-patient, lawyer-client, professor-student–which were once thought to be somewhat above that sort of thing. Individual students may not be able to select the particular grade they wish to receive for a particular course from a menu, but it’s hard for me not to think that it’s market forces that have driven the grade inflation that has taken place over the last several decades, particularly at private colleges. I suspect that competitive forces are also at work in the determination of degree requirements.

        • I suspect these influences as well – heavy sigh …

  • On the other hand, I would also like to tell that dumb ass student that when he gets out in the real world and gets a job, he is going to have bosses. And since he may not be working for FOX news, some of those bosses may not be American, white, and male, and they may well have have political and cultural ideas that are different than his own. So it might be a good idea if he learned to handle small indignities without throwing a hissy fit.

  • cameronhorsburgh

    “I did not expect to be judged before I ever walked through the door, and did not think I would be forced to agree with my teachers’ worldviews or suffer the consequences.”

    Huh. He suddenly understands what it’s like to be non-white, non-rich, and/or non-male. He doesn’t like it. And so he objects, and insists that he should be able the Other that way.

    It’s not the requirement to write inclusively that hurts. It’s the cognitive dissonance from carrying such a big contradiction in his head.

    (Incidentally, my university required an inclusive writing style over twenty years ago, and we liked it!)

  • arcseconds

    ‘mankind’ has been in use since back when ‘man’ had a common gender-neutral use. It hasn’t changed its referent in that time (it’s always meant the entire human race).

    So I think there’s a decent argument to the effect that this language has never been non-inclusive.

    I reckon the best way forward would be to bring back werman to refer to adult males, and understand ‘man’ in the inclusive sense.

    “There were three men sitting at the table — two wermen and one woman.”

  • Ian

    Wow, that’s seriously depressing. I too had to write this way twenty years ago.