The importance of language on campus

On the scale of progress, the Institute appears to be somewhere in the middle. Not forging ahead and yet not remaining belligerently stuck in the past like other campuses, it seems the Institute has stagnated.

By Samuel Pennifold

An appreciation of the significance of how language is used on academic campuses has grown increasingly important over the past few years. As society has progressed, we have become more aware of the constructive and destructive power of how we use language. In places of learning where discussion and inclusion are vital, it has become particularly important to examine our language to assure that as a society we can continue to progress towards inclusivity, safety, and equality. Many academic campuses have seen some of the most radical changes, yet others have been unwilling or slow to adapt to change.

On the scale of progress, the Institute appears to be somewhere in the middle. Not forging ahead and yet not remaining belligerently stuck in the past like other campuses, it seems the Institute has stagnated. The creation of a code of conduct and the ‘Respect’ campaign indicates that steps have been taken. Yet there are other areas where the Institute seems to be lagging in its duty to progress.

Recently, MINT students experienced this firsthand in a Global Issues and Perspectives lecture on migration, asylum courts, and the global counter-terrorism legal framework. The language used in the lecture, particularly concerning sexual violence, left many students feeling uncomfortable. Some students even left the lecture hall before the end of the lecture. This episode brings into sharp focus the importance of language and its use on academic campuses. Discussions about challenging and sensitive issues on academic campuses are vital for learning, and such issues can be dealt with and solutions can start to be found without forthright discussion. However, of equally vital and obvious importance is being sensitive to our language.

In a module as large as Global Issues and Perspectives, the hard truth is that multiple people will have experienced sexual violence in some form. The importance, then, of lecturing on and discussing sexual violence with sensitive language cannot be overstated. All voices, especially those of people who have experienced sexual violence in this instance, are vital to such discussions and should not have barriers to their inclusion placed on them through the use of insensitive language.

It seems that this incident fits into a larger pattern on campus of the use of insensitive language, especially regarding sexual violence and harassment. It is now approaching two years since the Stop Silencing Students movement swept across the Institute. This movement was a response to what students felt was an attempt by the Institute’s direction to stop them from having their voices heard on issues of sexual harassment on campus, something that was only confirmed by the, albeit perhaps unintentionally, symbolic removal of posters raising awareness of sexual violence and harassment before the Institute hosted an external event. After two years, aside from the implementation of a code of conduct, the announcement of which had its issues, it seems the Institute has continued to stagnate in its progress in realising the importance of how we use language on campus, specifically in lectures and discussions on challenging issues.

On a campus as diverse as the Institute’s, one with people of massively different experiences and backgrounds, taking responsibility for using accurate yet sensitive language in lectures, policies, and messaging is only greater. It is possible to have forthright discussions on a range of issues without leaving anyone feeling uncomfortable. The Institute should not be happy to stagnate in its pursuit of progress towards a safer, more inclusive, and equal campus community and society. As a leader in the academic field of global policy, the Institute should rather be looking to forge ahead.

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