Michigan State Warns Against Using Words Like ‘Christmas Tree,’ ‘America’, Because They Might Be Offensive

Michigan State University’s (MSU) annually updated “Inclusive Guide” is telling the university community to refrain from using common holiday verbiage like “Christmas trees,” “gifts,” “bunnies” and “eggs” during the winter and spring seasons, as well as words like “obese” and “overweight” outside of a research context and even the word “America” when referring to the United States of America, arguing they can be offensive to others in certain situations.

The lengthy “Inclusive Guide” instructs students and community members to stay away from a litany of different commonly used words, and urges them to make various considerations when having conversations about topics like gender and sexuality or race and ethnicity.

Michigan State University values communications practices that support belonging for all Spartans,” the guide states, adding that it “aligns with the MSU Editorial Style Guide and includes recommendations informing images, web content, speeches, events and more.”
Among the guide’s recommendations are a bevy of terms to “avoid,” including “American-centric or first-world language” like “foreigner,” “backward,” “third world” and even the word “America” when referring to the U.S.

Other words the guide recommends avoiding include, “radical,” “extremist,” “cult,” “devout” and “pious,” in addition to a variety of holiday-related words like “Christmas trees,” “bunnies,” “wreaths,” “holly,” “reindeer” and more.

The guide’s recommendations also included “Best Practices” for some words like “obese,” and “obesity,” which it says should not be used “outside of communicating about research.” Rather, the guide suggests MSU community members use terms like “higher weight” or “larger-bodied.”

The purpose of the guide is to inform general communications and does not apply to academic, medical, legal or other specialized fields,” the guide states. “Some terminology, like obesity, is specific to a disease, thus, recommendations to use alternative options do not apply to technical applications.”

TND spoke with MSU student Audrey Whipple who insisted the school’s “Inclusive Guide” is “much too extreme” and actually takes the focus off learning for students and faculty.

This is an annual guide, so they’re constantly updating their communications and what’s deemed offensive, or what language should be avoided, but this year [MSU] just took it way too far,” Whipple told TND. “These everyday words are now deemed harmful and it’s created this hyper-sensitivity and social pressure because now I’m so focused on exactly how to word emails — and I’m sure professors feel the same way — that now the focus is being taken off the courses when there is so much pressure to not be offensive, not be harmful with everyday language.”

Michigan State, however, is not alone in its efforts to control the language used by its community.

The University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work announced earlier this year that it would expel the term “field work” from its curriculum and practices in an attempt to be more inclusive, as was reported in January by The National Desk (TND). The school chose to replace the common phrase with the term “practicum,” according to a memo obtained by TND.

Even the U.S. Navy has implored its members to create “safe spaces” using “inclusive language.”

The AP Stylebook, a leading style guide for American writers, has similarly added guidelines around “inclusive storytelling” and Google attempted to add a feature to its popular Google Docs program offering “inclusive” writing suggestions, but following backlash, it ultimately got shut down.

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