Political Correctness on Campus

Posted April 9th, 2010 at 2:28 pm.

Where Does PC Come From?

The discussion began with a basic definition and explanation of the political correctness movement from the facilitator; it started in the ‘80s and happened mainly on a university level. It was intended to bring minorities more into the mainstream and appeal to the greater culture, but in fact produced the opposite effect of connecting and bringing attention to diversity and social justice.

How do We Feel It?

In the context of Bryn Mawr’s campus, there certainly is a stigma to be PC; but how far does it go, how is it imposed, and how to we feel it? We noted that it is felt mostly in terms of speech and openness of discussion, especially in the classroom but in social contexts as well. The stigma to be PC affects what we are and are not willing to say, which can help to resist blurting out things that might be offensive, but it also limits the discussion we can have, and the topics we can cover. In a sense, the stigma to be PC prevents us from being PC, because it prevents us from openly discussing differences and diversity, and learning what we may not know and want to ask, but feel impelled not to speak up.


One example that was brought up is using race as a descriptor. We tend to be unwilling to use someone’s race to describe or indicate that person, even if this is the one of the fastest or most convenient ways to make an identification, because of our desire to be perceived as complying with the societal rules of political correctness.

Another example we discussed is privilege; it can be uncomfortable to discuss privilege, especially, we determined, at Bryn Mawr. But why is this? We are all aware that people come from different backgrounds, including varying socio-economic backgrounds, and, as one participant pointed out, having some students at Bryn Mawr who come from a wealthier background and can afford to pay full tuition allows Bryn Mawr to afford to admit more students from less advantaged backgrounds who cannot pay tuition and need some degree of financial aid. But we still persist in avoiding or denying these things; another participant brought up the idea of classism and reverse classism—some students, she noted, will deny their wealthier background or will feel the need to pretend that they can’t afford to go out to dinner, into the city, etc. because of their social group.

Political Correctness at Bryn Mawr:

Does the Bryn Mawr environment specifically lend itself to this over-political correctness? What, after all, are we trying to achieve? In several of the personal stories shared, we noted a trend: we tend to impose our own ideas of how to be PC on ourselves and our own behavior. We think, “I don’t want others to think I’m not PC, so I had better not do x or say y.” It’s much rarer to think, “I don’t like what that person has said or done, I don’t think that’s PC.” In view of the fact that we tend to regulate our behavior much more strictly according to these rules than we gauge others’ behavior, we have to consider what the actual goal of PC is; is it about making society easier/better for minorities, as in the original movement, or is it about making sure no one is offended?

PC in Academia–Learning vs. Experience:

One thing we noted about Bryn Mawr is that awareness of PC issues can create the feeling of being able to speak for the other—if we read about it in an academic environment, we feel qualified to discuss it firsthand, though it’s not our personal experience. This can be offensive and upsetting to people who do have firsthand experience. The acceptability of these kinds of discussions greatly depends how they’re framed—the claim of authority or knowledge isn’t the same as recognition, awareness, or empathy. Certainly it’s great to be aware of PC and diversity issues and be willing to discuss them openly and learn from others, but this does not constitute expertise on these issues by any means.

How Can we Improve?

We have, then, to consider how we can improve the environment in our community surrounding these issues; it would be basically impossible for us all to simply decided to do away with PC rules—after all, they do serve certain purposes, and in order for this to work the decision would have to be a campus-wide, unanimous one. Though it’s hard to come up with a definitive answer, awareness is the note we ended on; it’s good to be aware of these issues and be willing to discuss them, even if there is no ultimate solution.

Filed under: culture,diversity,language by claireaelionmoss

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