Here's the headline on a much-shared CampusReform.org story published this week: "Bias-Free Language Guide claims the word 'American' is 'problematic'."
What has followed is a takedown of what a young conservative journalist and his editors regarded as a kind of fiendish political correctness happening at the University of New Hampshire. Of course, the guide at the center of this story is itself intended as a takedown on cultural insensitivity. Wheels within wheels.
Let me explain.
CampusReform.org is an online publication. It deploys a five-person staff and a team of almost 50 paid campus correspondents (students) against what the publication considers the twin scourges of leftist bias and abuse on the nation's college campuses.
On Tuesday, Texas Campus Correspondent Peter Hasson, a University of Dallas student, wrote the piece in question. It was a story about words included on the University of New Hampshire Web site under the heading "Bias-Free Language Guide."
From the beginning, Hasson makes his perspective on this guide clear.
“American,” “illegal alien,” “foreigners,” “mothering,” and “fathering” are just a handful of words deemed “problematic” by the University of New Hampshire’s Bias-Free Language Guide.
According to the university’s website, the guide “is meant to invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.”
The guide defines words such as “homosexual” as “problematic,” offering “Same Gender Loving” as a more inclusive substitute. Similarly, a lack of gender-neutral bathrooms is, according to the university, “ciscentrism.”
Hasson couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. But CampusReform.org Editor in Chief Caleb Bonham could. He told The Fix that the story highlighted the wild extremes of political correctness on college campuses. Schools such as the University of New Hampshire are swaddling students in a virtual receiving blanket that won't hold when they enter the real world, Bonham told me.
In truth, the guide makes its goals and its nonexistent on-campus authority clear. As the intro text puts it:
Universities are places to look at the world in new ways. As a university organization, we care about the life of the mind. We offer this guide as a way to promote discussion and to facilitate creative and accurate expression.
Of course, there are some suggestions in the Bias-Free Language Guide that will set more than a few eyes rolling — no matter your political affiliation.
For example, it turns to an oft-repeated ivory tower favorite that race is nothing more than a social construct. That's technically true. But some kind of language about race remains essential to understand the real world around us, much less the issues in the headlines. Another entry suggests that the term "undocumented immigrant" is preferable to the phrase "illegal alien" and explains why. Then the guide's authors suggest that "asylum seeker" should probably replace them all, even though that's true of only some documented and undocumented immigrants (or legal or illegal immigrants if you prefer).
See what I mean?
The original CampusReform.org piece never says it, but there is something strongly implied by all those quotation marks and limited explanations for each guide entry. And it is that a tyrannical kind of forced sensitivity rules college campuses.
Hasson's story doesn't include a comment or explanation from the university or the language guide's authors. It doesn't mention any attempt to contact the school or those authors either. It makes no mention at all of the way language can sometimes be both emblematic of and contribute to a problem, and it offers no examples of words most people have stopped using for that reason ("retarded," "mulatto," "gimp," etc.).
And so far there's been no update. The University of New Hampshire distanced itself from the list Wednesday.
CampusReform.org is no ordinary college publication. It's wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute's founder and president, told me.
(Blackwell's own activist history includes coordinating a group of bandage-wearing delegates at the 2004 Republican National Convention who mocked and questioned Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's rightful claim to a Purple Heart. Blackwell later apologized.)
Part of the Leadership Institute's rationale: College campuses are so overrun with what they call liberal bias that young minds are being distorted. Just consider the way that young voters break between the parties.
For CampusReform.org, sometimes the battle involves telling the world about a Florida community college professor who in 2012 required her students to sign a pledge to vote a straight Democratic ticket, Blackwell told me. That story went viral, too. In early 2013, the college fired that professor.
Right now, CampusReform.org includes a story about a religious college's decision to cancel its student health-care plan to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate. And there are several pieces that try very hard to lay at the White House door some of the blame for Rolling Stone magazine's retracted story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia.
The team at CampusReform.org writes for an audience already converted to its cause or willing to be. Both Bonham and Blackwell mentioned that CampusReform.org's stories get picked up by the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Sometimes CNN and ABC pick them up, too. Potential media appearances are one of the benefits that CampusReform.org can offer young journalists, both said.
Now, you see? Young conservatives like Hasson really are part of the story, if not the story within the story here.