Beyond the Hill

University of Michigan adopts campaign to spread awareness about harmful language use

Juliana Meddick | Contributing illustrator

As part of a new inclusive language program, the University of Michigan has adopted a campaign spreading awareness about language that could be deemed as harmful.

The campaign, which arrived on the Michigan campus last fall, originated as an outgrowth of a group on campus known as Expect Respect, which has been a long-standing group at the university and embraces the concept that people must give respect to earn respect, said Rick Fitzgerald, the director of public affairs and internal communications at the University of Michigan. The school invested $16,000 in the campaign.

Along with other student groups advocating for inclusion, the inclusive language campaign was born on campus and officially launched through a series of posters and educational groups to inform people of the dangers of using potentially harmful language in their daily lingo, Fitzgerald said.

The mission of the inclusive language campaign is to spread awareness and make people conscious of their word choice decisions and how they may affect other people, according to the campaign’s webpage on the University of Michigan’s student life website.

The campaign targets several areas where terms used without thought may cause negative reactions. Words such as “gay,” “retarded” or “illegal aliens,” as well as phrases including “I want to die” or “That test raped me,” can be offensive or harmful to certain groups of people, and the inclusive language campaign encourages people to think before they use them, according to an information brochure given out on campus as part of the campaign.


Along with information materials being displayed and distributed around campus, students have also been asked to sign a pledge to show their support of the inclusivity of language being used by the student body and faculty on campus as a part of the $16,000 campaign.

Some of the money was used to print banners and host a kickoff event to inform students, according to a Feb. 11 article.

The campaign addresses the issue of language and the way in which each person with their own unique background could interpret certain words differently, Fitzgerald said.

The University of Michigan is made up of students representing all 50 states and 120 different countries, and each individual’s personal background is reflected in the way that mainstreamed terms and potentially harmful words could have an affect on the way they react emotionally to a term used by another person, Fitzgerald said.

While the campaign was launched last semester, it is an ongoing effort as new students arrive each fall, Fitzgerald said. It is important to keep new students informed and educated.

Across campus, the general reaction to the movement has been generally positive from students, staff and faculty, Fitzgerald said.

The inclusive language campaign also took to social media, and the program’s Facebook page shares information, photos, links and other materials to better inform its more than 400 followers on the importance of thinking before you speak.

The campaign also consists of events throughout the semester, including the Your Stories Matter Event, which aim to help educate and to get people involved in the campaign. Ultimately, Fitzgerald said, the goal of the initiative is to heighten awareness of the importance of being inclusive in the daily language being used around the campus.

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