A few weeks ago, I wrote about the origin of the phrase “live free or die,” which arose from the fierce independence and populist spirit of John Stark, New Hampshire’s hero of the American Revolutionary War. Now the soil in Stark Cemetery, beneath the memorial dedicated to the man who wrote the state’s motto, is churning because the grave’s occupant is rapidly spinning.
What’s making Stark spin in his grave? The antithesis of what he fought for—a condemnation of the very word “American”—is spewing forth from one of the state’s premier institutions: its university.
Since its founding in 1866, what is now the University of New Hampshire has trained students in subjects from agriculture to business to mathematics to zoology. Now UNH is embroiled in a controversy over a “Bias-Free Language Guide” posted to its website. I should disclose that this issue is near and dear to my heart: I am a UNH graduate.
As I wrote before, everybody’s from somewhere, and I’m from New Hampshire. (please don’t call me a Yankee—the Yankees are a hated baseball team from New York—but you can call me a New England transplant.) I’ve lived in Georgia just over 23 years, which is longer than everyone born in Georgia after 1992, and this is the first bona-fide “scandal” which involves my alma mater I’ve experienced since I got here.
College watchdog website CampusReform.com broke the story last week, reporting that the “guide” defines a whole gaggle of words as “problematic,” such as “American,” “illegal alien,” “foreigners,” “mothering,” and “fathering.” While I’m not sure why “mothering” and “fathering” would be—or should be—considered a problem, unless you live in Huxley’s dystopian “Brave New World,” I can confidently say that “American” is not a “problematic” term.
This is another example of political correctness gone wild—the intellectual hipster, navel-gazing crowd’s version of spring break bikini videos. To them, “American” is a problematic term because it’s ambiguous and could apply to a whole range of western hemisphere residents, given that North America and South America are “American” continents. But outside of a geology or anthropology classroom, would anyone question the context of the word “American” because it might refer to Canadians or Argentinians?
No, they wouldn’t. It’s stupid to think anyone would make that mistake, and to quote Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.”
In an act of grownup-ness, Mark Huddleston, the university’s president, had the guide removed from the school’s website, proving that at least one person at UNH rises above the mindless P.C. reflex to cower in fear of offending anyone. “The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses,” Huddleston said in a statement. “It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included.”
Huddleston used the word “ironic,” but I would use a different word that rhymes with “ironic” but means “stupid.”
My biggest embarrassment over this mini-scandal is not that P.C. culture has penetrated the Victorian turrets and spires of Thompson Hall (the main administrative building and iconic structure on the UNH campus). It’s that today’s college students lack anything better to do than to wallow in America-hating and divisive colloquium, then produce a 4,812-word “guide” which has as its stated purpose “to promote discussion and to facilitate creative and accurate expression.”
And they did this by shutting down the English language based on someone’s possibly perceived micro-aggression at a person using a “trigger” word like “American” to refer to things within the United States. I could possibly, given enough time, think of a less useful and more vapid use of students’ time at a university, but honestly, I have better things to do.
Apparently, some of the students who currently attend UNH do not, and that’s a shame.
(Published in the Houston Home Journal Aug 5 2015)