To the devoted, P.C. is a way of life that encompasses activities, classes, language, food and friends. To its enemies, P.C. is a threat to the First Amendment. To others, P.C. is simply a joke. According to its doctrine, it is not P.C to be a "freshman", but it is P.C. to be a "freshperson," and even more P.C. to be a "first-year student." It's not P.C. to be "disabled." It used to be P.C. to be "handicapped," but now people prefer to be "handi-capable" or "differently-abled." It is not P.C. to own a "pet," but it is P.C. to have an "animal companion." · P.C. used to stand for personal computer. Now it stands for Politically Correct -- a buzzword which to some encompasses a new movement to challenge to the "white, male power structure." But to others it represents a major threat to free speech. In a perfect society, to be Politically Correct means to be educated and sensitive to the needs and concerns of everyone in the community. It applies both to the terminology that people use and how they behave. But some believe that, in an attempt to make a better world, people have gone too far and are now trampling on free expression rights. One of the most frequently occurring debates over P.C. at the University comes over what labels to apply to people of different races. The Oriental Studies department is currently embroiled in such a dispute, with many students saying the term "Oriental" is derogatory because it is a label chosen by those outside the group it is referring to. Those who support P.C. say that only the group being labeled can choose what they want to be called. "I have no right as a white person to tell Asians what they can and can't call themselves," Women's Center Director Elena DiLapi said last week. But the labelling goes beyond racial groups. Gays and lesbians, handicapped people and even rape victims state that they should be able to chose what they are called. DiLapi said the P.C. term "rape victim-survivors" shows respect and understanding for those involved. "The term survivor came out of women speaking for themselves," DiLapi said. "They have the individual strength to survive, to go on with their lives. It is reality for them. It's not just a semantic thing in their lives." Progressive Student Alliance member Amandee Braxton said last week the idea of changing groups' names is not new. She pointed to the changing terms for blacks, from the term "negro" to "African-American", as an example. Braxton added, however, that the monicker "African-American" has not been as quick to take hold because of the positive images slogans like "black power" and "black is beautiful" hold. But History Professor Alan Kors, an ardent libertarian and a vocal critic of some of the University's policies regarding free speech, said last week that P.C. labels put limits on expression and hinder academic freedom. He said certain terms that are deemed un-P.C. can be illustrative. "[Most of the time] if you use a racially derogatory term, it is not Politically Correct," Kors said. "But if you called a black Republican an Uncle Tom, that would be social criticism." The history professor also said that P.C. tends to discriminate against non-liberals and non-minorities. But President Sheldon Hackney last week pointed out that colleges and universities are traditionally left-leaning, but not necessarily anti-conservative. "There is some pressure in the direction of Political Correctness," Hackney admitted. But, he said, "it's not official. It's that here, and at most other elite universities, the dominant mentality is liberal." However, College and Wharton senior Sue Moss, who is active in a national Democratic organization which supports P.C. ideals, said that P.C. does not exclude any political views. Although she is pro-choice, she said she considers fellow College senior Theresa Simmonds also P.C. because she is "anti-choice, but she is a feminist and she honestly believes that anti-choice is P.C.," Moss said. "She stands up for what she believes in." Simmonds however, prefers not to use the term, which she calls "condescending" and "a very superficial label." "With many people, I don't know that [Political Correctness] goes beyond the surface," said Simmonds, who recently was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. "It is not something you do to play a political game. It is much more deep-rooted than that." One of the first manifestations of P.C. labels at the University was the change from calling new students freshmen in official literature to calling them first-year students. Director of Residential Living Gigi Simeone said that the change from "freshman" to "first-year student" was made several years ago. It was already being used informally by many people, she added. "It is more accurate and more inclusive," Simeone said. "It more readily brings to mind both men and women." Residential Living's concern was not that they were being un-P.C., Simeone said, but rather that women felt uncomfortable or left out with the old term. "Our impulse is to do things to create communities that are supportive for all students," Simeone said. · The two-year-old Labor Day Diversity Education program for incoming students is, for many critics, at the heart of the argument at the University. The seminars, which are required for all freshmen, were started as an attempt to teach new students about different racial and ethnic groups and how to be tolerant of them. But critics say the seminars, like P.C. in general, have become an indoctrination, an attempt to tell freshmen what can and cannot be said at the University. History Professor Kors has long been one of the strongest opponents of the program. He said that the University, through the seminars and racial harassment policies, should not dictate what people can say. Instead, Kors said, "the proper response to speech is more speech." "[The program] hands people a moral agenda and tends to divide the University by race, gender and sexual orientation," Kors said. "It encourages people to perceive all events, however complex, through the filters of race and gender and sexual preference." He said that if the University had a mandatory Labor Day program and showed films of what a fetus looks like during abortion, the community would recognize the politicization. But currently, people don't see diversity education as a political issue, he said. "I see no group on this campus that has the moral superiority and should be given the right to give this campus moral training," Kors said. But College and Wharton senior Moss, who served as a Diversity Education facilitator, said the goal of the program is to raise sensitivity, not to indoctrinate students. "I hope that is not the way people see that day," Moss said. "What I try to do is make the people in my group aware." "I don't see that as an indoctrination process," Moss said. "Making people aware that these things are painful can be nothing but beneficial." President Hackney said the Diversity Education program is not indoctrination - "it's simply consciousness raising." But one of the most widely publicized disputes over P.C. invading the realm of free speech came over an incident surrounding the seminars. A student, involved in the planning of the Diversity Education program, wrote to an administrator with her concerns about the materials being presented. "My concern with the issue of diversity education lies primarily in my deep regard for the individual and my desire to protect the freedom of all members of society," the woman wrote. A University administrator wrote back, saying that the word "individual" is a " 'RED FLAG' phrase . . . which is considered by many to be RACIST." "Arguments that champion the individual over the group ultimately privileges [sic] the 'individuals' belonging to the largest or dominant group," the administrator's letter said. The letter has since been used by P.C. opponents as an example of the movement's restrictive nature. It has appeared in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to New York magazine. · Many say the term P.C. appeared at the University during the last couple of years, at the same time phrases and ideas like "diversity," "ethnocentrism" and "heterosexism" emerged on campus. But others say the idea is not new. Women's Center Director DiLapi said last month that she heard the term at least 10 years ago in the women's movement and in gay and lesbian communities. Regardless, P.C. has now invaded mainstream, college culture. And writers at publications from Newsweek to The Chronicle of Higher Education have stood up and taken notice. Whatever their political stand, the term P.C. seems to have polarized organizations and individuals. "The notion of Political Correctness is a caricature of the truth . . . it's satirical treatment of the real thing," Hackney said. "It's a conservative term used to satirize trends on campus, but there's a seed of truth to it." But College and Wharton senior Moss said the term P.C. connotes only positive images -- sensitivity, awareness and understanding. "I hope I am P.C.," Moss said last week. "I dedicate most of my life to that. I couldn't live with myself if I thought I was doing something that was not morally correct or not P.C." At the University, the Progressive Student Alliance is often named as an organization which works for "Politically Correct" ideals. But several PSA members said last week that they think the issue is "absurd." College sophomore and PSA member David Saries said he believes that it is good to go out and educate people about "justice and equality." But he said "the way that it has been turned around by some 'cliquey' group of people is absurd." "I don't know what politically correct is," Saries added. PSA member Braxton agreed that the term P.C. is "kind of an arrogant phrasing," but she said the basic principle of recognizing multiculturalism in the U.S. is a positive goal.Comments powered by Disqus
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