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Stanford University runs damage control after featuring 'American' in 'harmful' language guide

"The spirit behind it, from the beginning, has been to be responsive to feedback and to consider adjustments based on that feedback."

Published: December 22, 2022 5:02pm

Updated: December 22, 2022 5:29pm

Stanford University is scrambling to respond to backlash following reports that an internal guide of removing "harmful language" from the school's online materials included the term "American."

Seeking to "eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased... language in Stanford websites and code," the guide labelled the term "American" as "imprecise" given it "often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas."

The term "American" is a common shorthand for people from the United States and no other country in the Western Hemisphere frequently uses it as an identifier for their citizens.

Now, Stanford has asserted that the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, under which the directive fell, did not represent a mandatory policy, but was merely part of an internal document intended for discussion between members of the school's IT department.

"First and importantly, the website does not represent university policy. It also does not represent mandates or requirements," said Stanford Chief Information Officer Steve Gallagher, per the Washington Times. "This guide for the university’s IT community is undergoing continual review."

"The spirit behind it, from the beginning, has been to be responsive to feedback and to consider adjustments based on that feedback," he went on. "We value the input we have been hearing, from a variety of perspectives, and will be reviewing it thoroughly and making adjustments to the guide."

Gallagher's statement echoes that of Stanford Assistant Vice President of External Communications Dee Mostofi, who told the New York Post immediately following the initial story that the guide "was specifically created by and intended for use within the university IT community."

The Stanford CIO also directly addressed the backlash surrounding use of the term "American."

"We have particularly heard concerns about the guide's treatment of the term 'American,'" he said. "We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is the use of the term 'American' not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed."

He again contended that the recommendation came from a desire to be more precise in using terms to refer to different nationalities, but conceded that the school "missed the mark in this presentation."

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