Utilizing inclusive and affirming language is an ongoing commitment to communicating in ways that are most respectful and effective for our audiences. Too often, conversations around language use devolves into debates about political correctness and black and white thinking about words we should and should not say. We recommend side-stepping divisive debates about individual rights and free speech and instead focusing on the community impact of our language choices. One way to reflect on our language use is to compare the choices we make with the clothes we wear. We have many choices about the clothes we wear and what’s more, the ideal clothing choices for us are at times ill-fitting to others. Some clothes makes us feel confident, beautiful and more like ourselves. Other clothes are uncomfortable, constricting, or make us self-conscious. Much like clothes, we live our lives in language, and like fashion, language is constantly changing. A culturally competent community member stays attuned to shifts in language and works to integrate these shifts into their professional practices.
At Oregon State, utilizing inclusive and affirming language may look like a researcher providing protocols and instruments in multiple languages to enable the input of diverse participants in the production of knowledge. It may also look like a colleague normalizing pronoun sharing at the start of their meetings and inviting all those involved to share gender pronouns if they wish.
Individually, learning in this dimension may look like increasing awareness of others’ wants and needs and better understanding of how language use contributes to our sense of community and belonging. We may improve our ability to empathize, communicate across difference and adapt our professional practices once we gather more insight. We may also become more open, curious and committed to exploring the impacts of our language use on others. As a community, when we learn together, we may become an organization that is flexible and responsive to the needs of our students and colleagues.