Did Standford take their ‘Elimination of harmful language initiative’ too far?



The more we have grown as a society throughout history, the more effort we have made to be kind. We make points to be more inclusive, give opportunities to those who need it, and to eliminate hate and hurtful language or slang. However, Stanford has taken things to a whole new level when it comes to eliminating harmful/offensive language. We have come a far way as a society when it comes to acceptable speech, but Stanford may have taken things too far. 

In March of 2022 Stanford University launched the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) in an attempt to address harmful language over time. However, the list of words or phrases that have been eliminated borders on absurd and unnecessary. In a document that holds a list of “harmful” words and phrases, there are over a hundred words that have been listed as harmful language, along with alternatives to use in place of those words. Some of the listed words such as “crippled” and “retard” are reasonable to ban and discourage. However, most of the listed words or phrases are completely unreasonable.

Some examples of unreasonably banned words include “lame”, “brave”, “Philippine Islands”, “OCD”, “walk- in”, “congressman/congresswoman”, “freshman”, “mankind”, “mail man”, “American”, “survivor”, and “victim”. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to absurdly banned words on Stanford’s list.

I am all for eliminating actually harmful language; however, most of the words listed are not hurtful in my eyes and (quite frankly) if you can’t handle me saying things such as “white paper”, I feel like that’s a you problem at that point. Many of these words are not said with ill-intent, and speaking in a societal sense we should not be limiting our speech for those few who would find it insulting.

Why fix what’s not broken? 

I think we can always grow to be more kind, but this is a step too far. I can only imagine how something like this on a large scale would affect future generations: It feels like the equivalent to coddling a child. There are ways life can be made easier, but when it comes down to it, life is not easy or fair. People will say most of the words on that list whether it’s recommended against or not.

However, apparently, I am not alone when it comes to feeling like the EHLI is absolutely absurd. On December 19, 2022, Stanford hid their site from viewers due to a huge backlash – critics have claimed it to be “extreme leftism” and over the top. Politics aside, it’s clear that the EHLI has been taken too far, and considering the fact that Stanford took it down due to extreme backlash proves that.

Despite the way Stanford went about it, they did have good intentions. It’s important as a society to strive to always be kind, and find our own flaws to work on; just maybe not to the extreme to which Stanford took it…