Friday, November 16, 2012

Students Urged to Watch Words

by Taylor Lunka, News Writer

National language needs to change — that was the message of the latest “Watch Your Mouth” presentation.

The event took place on Nov. 8 in the Anderson University Center. Speakers invited students to question what it means to be an American as well as the language used to describe Americans.

Native Americans and Muslim Americans were highlighted in this open discussion session where language was the main focus.
Throughout the presentation, the roughly 30 student attendees were able to ask questions and the event concluded with a discussion open to all.

Facilitators of the event, professor Adela Ramos and junior Kelsey Greer, kicked off the discussion. Last year’s  “Got Privilege?” series inspired the content of the event, they said.    
Greer said, “we [Greer and Ramos] decided it would be a great idea to create a series that focused explicitly on language and the power that certain words have.” Greer said she wants students to become knowledgeable about the power words can have, and not to feel like they are simply being told which words are acceptable and which are not.
Ramos said she wants students to use these events as a safe place to think about language and “how language we use doesn’t only sometimes cause pain [to others], but it shapes behaviors and attitudes.” 
In light of the recent national election, Ramos said she challenges students to think about what they would say the “next time they define themselves as Americans. Who do they imagine that falls into these categories and who do they include when they say they’re American?”
Although some may not realize it, Ramos said, students and American citizens are directly affected by the language they use.
“Students should care because their own choice of words can begin to transform these behaviors and attitudes for the better,” Ramos said.    
After Ramos and Greer’s introduction, professors Suzanne Crawford-O’Brien and Seth Dowland gave individual presentations about Native Americans and Muslim Americans respectively.
Native Americans, Crawford-O’Brien explained, are pulled in and also pushed out of American society.
“We need to be more conscious and critically engaged in stereotypes,” Crawford-O’Brien said. She asked students to question the history of these stereotypes.
At Pacific Lutheran University, “we get to say social justice and ethics matter,” Crawford-O’Brien said.
While she said she thinks students are generally motivated to make the world a better place, PLU is a specifically value-driven university, as stated in the mission statement.
“Part of making the world a better place,” Crawford-O’Brien said, “is being informed, empathetic, compassionate, being smart and not throwing around language you don’t understand and hurting people in the process.”
During the election, she said she reflected on how people acted and what they said. “You see a lot of people saying the real America is dead. What the heck is real America?” Crawford-O’Brien said.
When Dowland spoke, he challenged students’ use of language about Muslim Americans.
“American norms made it hard for Muslims to fit in,” Dowland said.
He said he thinks this relates to the racial binary of black and white, because “Muslims don’t fit into either one.”   
Based on his studies in American religious theory regarding Christians and politics, Dowland said “we need to figure out ways to talk about what it means to be an American that are ever more expansive.”
He said he thinks the definition of an American needs to be more inclusive because it hasn’t “yet encompassed Muslims.”
Dowland said he finds this an important topic for students at PLU because of the university’s liberal arts education system.
“One of the things we hope you leave this place with is how to be a good citizen in a society where there is great diversity,” Dowland said. 
The next event in the series will be held during spring semester.