At the beginning of the school year, M-A administration increased their focus on the use of slurs and cursing on campus, discussing the issue on M-A Today, in class assemblies, and in a weekly Bear Notes newsletter.

While the positive language campaign addresses both slurs and expletives, Administrative Vice Principal Nicholas Muys explained that the intent of the campaign centers around the use of slurs without targeting any specific groups. He said, “A while ago there was an initiative where we focused on the use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative. Recently, we were talking about the use of the N-word. Rather than focusing on one word, we decided we would focus on language as a whole because we wanted to be mindful of our own power and privilege.” 

Principal Karl Losekoot said, “The primary concern is around slurs—language that is offensive to different groups, different genders—even if you think it’s a joke that feels funny between you and your friend, it may actually be offensive to the person standing next to you.” He added, “I would say that my experience this year has been really positive, but it was not so great last year, so we tried to start focusing on it for the beginning of this year.”

Administration’s positive language campaign doesn’t violate any free speech laws because they haven’t had any specific consequences for students who use expletives. Muys explained, “We have a code around hate speech, but when it comes to cursing and using f-bombs, we try to just use it as a learning opportunity. It’s really about heightening our focus on language in general, because language has the power to shape thought and perception and to ultimately shape somebody’s experience here on campus.”

Losekoot said, “I don’t view it as a censorship issue. Instead, I think it’s about having a respectful community where everybody feels like they belong and doesn’t feel disrespected. We want to prevent escalating conflict with our language, intentionally or unintentionally, which I found happened often last year.”

Even so, some students think this focus on language use will only antagonize students. One student said, “I see what they’re trying to do, but I think it won’t change students’ behavior because people will keep swearing and using slurs when administrators aren’t around. If anything, it might motivate students to use more slurs.”

Sophomore Katherine Pavloff concurred, “I don’t think their presentation about language use at the grade level assembly is going to change anything—people are going to do what they want to do. Also, I don’t feel like language is a huge problem or that many students are very disrespectful about it.”

“I think when I was in high school I heard slurs much more,” said English teacher David Rosenberg. “They were also definitely used more in other places where I’ve taught.”

Even so, he said that conversations about the use of these words are still important. He said, “I definitely know that we’ve talked about it within professional development. I think it’s a conversation that needs to be had, and I appreciate that M-A tries to foster those conversations.”

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