Thursday, May 3, 2012

Professors explain power of language

By Rhianna Gelhart, Guest Writer

Tuesday night saw the last of the Watch Your Mouth: Language and Power lectures.

Each of the lectures,  organized by Adela Ramos of the English department and Diversity Advocate Kelsey Greer, centered around specific words for discussion.

Tuesday’s lecture and discussion included three words: “cult,” “Christmas” and “tradition.” A different professor spoke about each word.

Professor Eric Hammerstrom of the religion department spoke about the word “cult,” while professor Kevin O’Brian spoke about tradition and professor Rona Kaufman spoke on Christmas.

“It’s very important that we can talk about these things openly,” Kaufman said. “These conversations are very different than those you would hear in the classroom.”

These language and power lectures were a way for students and teachers to connect and discuss how certain words in our language are perceived differently on a daily basis.

About 15 students participated in each of these lectures. To accompany the lecture,  professors used video clips and surveyed statistics to help students better understand the word they discussed.

Tuesday’s lectures began with the word “tradition.” O’Brian explained what the word instills in everyone.

At Texas A&M, for example, the student legislature passed a law stating  their teachers spend as much time “defending traditional values” as they do with LGBT issues. This is where O’Brian really questioned the word “tradition” and what it means in an educational setting.

Next up for discussion was Christmas. Kaufman talked about how the generalization of saying “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season can be frustrating because people do not take the time to acknowledge the person they are wishing a Merry Christmas may not celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Kaufman cited an article from the New York Times reporting 88 percent of Americans believe it is a good idea to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the general “Happy Holidays,” even if it may offend people.

The discussion then turned to the word “cult.” Hammerstrom explained the word “cult” is not a very accurate term in the field of religious studies.

“Terms like religious, values and traditions have been taken by one side or the other and split,” Hammerstrom said, referring to conservative and liberal extremes.

A clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart discussed the issue currently in the media about Mormonism being a cult. It helped explain differences between organized religions and the term cult.

This was the last lecture for this year, but the series will be back again next year to discuss more words and the power they have on our society.