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Restricting Words in the Classroom Is Not A Violation of Free Speech

So why are we really mad at Washington State University Cultural Studies professors for restricting certain words?


Is it really that big of a deal to get mad? It’s a classroom setting. It’s an institution of HIGHER learning. We are supposed to progress from our limited knowledge base towards something greater right? If we don’t, then we’re wasting our money.

You mad about the term illegal? Why not be upset with AP for solidifying what many critical race scholars have long suggested – no person is illegal, but their behaviors might be. Using the term ‘illegal’ to define a certain group of people begins the stigmatize and devalue their identity which leads to their exploitation and ultimately violence enacted upon them (either individually or by the state). If I’ve lost you already, then you probably need a cultural studies class.


You mad about tranny? College isn’t a porn site. It’s an academic setting. There are words that are right and wrong in describing our trans populations.

You mad about male and female? Think about individuals who don’t fit these restrictive categories. These terms are essentially excluding entire segments of our population.


For those of you who have been inside a college classroom, there are a whole host of restrictions. Some professors restrict technology use. Some professors restrict late entrants into the classroom. Some professors restrict talking at all. Some people are acting like there should be no restrictions. Just as you are restricted in your workplace (limiting social media, adhering to dress codes, etc), classroom settings operate in a similar manner. A quick preview of a syllabus in any field will reveal the variety of restrictions that every student in the class must abide by.

In the sciences, its mostly been debated about what’s right and wrong (or rather, what’s more correct than not correct). For instance, a True and False question may ask if Cumulus Clouds are low level. One would answer ‘True’. But there was a historical process that’s so far removed from our realities that led to this point. If you can recall, people used to think that the Sun revolved around the Earth. And there were people persecuted for such hypotheses. Kinda what’s happening to the Cultural Studies professors at WSU and other institutions across the country. They already know right and wrong....ahem, rather, what’s more correct....


The fields of cultural studies are new to many universities, and many campuses still don’t have dedicated programs for Ethnic studies or Gender Studies. Many of the things that we teach urge for a new way of thinking that can free us from the confines of our bodies, that can move beyond dichotomies, and that can liberate us from oppressive structures of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. Lost you again....Gender Studies 101.

If we want to progress beyond gender labels and gender identity, we must identify new language to engage these conversations. Limiting our language limits our ability to transcend beyond binaries. Most of our languages are gendered. The categories of masculine and feminine are oppressive to those who might not identify as such.


Many of us want to view gendered language as some accident that just happened out of nowhere and not as something that was rooted in privileging masculinity or heteronormative ideals. But language is rooted in power. And language has the ability to maintain social hierarchies, marginalize groups, and oppression certain bodies. While the Spanish language may be one of the most obvious for perpetuating gendered dichotomies, el/la/los/las, etc, most European based languages have this inherent bias engrained in them.

Restricting these words is not a violation of freedom of expression.

In these classes, the students will be equipped with knowledge and tools necessary to incorporate progressive language not only in the classroom but also in their daily lives and daily interactions.


And let’s be real. Is restricting certain ‘words’ in a classroom seriously violating the students rights? The students spend all of maybe an hour every few days in this space. They can go back to using whatever words they want to use when they leave the classroom. The classroom setting should be an alternate place. A different space for being, seeing, doing, and knowing.

And let’s be even more real, are we really upset that students were urged to not use these words or the fact that we see these programs as disrupting antiquated values of racial and gender hierarchies in society? Yeah. We know which is true.


There was a simple solution. Drop the class. Change your major. If you don’t understand the rational in the professor urging for a progressive environment, and aren’t open enough to engage with the reasons why, these programs might not be for you. I have been in this field for a long time and I have learned that I can’t save everyone. And I’m not trying anymore.


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