University of Michigan Task Force Claims “Picnic” and “Brown Bag” are ‘Insensitive’ and Racist Terms

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The University of Michigan’s Information Technologies department released a list of ‘offensive’ words and terms along with suggested alternatives, leaving many onlookers scratching their heads wondering what could possibly be offensive about picnics.

In an attempt to foster a more inclusive environment for staff, the University of Michigan’s ITS department launched a Words Matter Task Force “to evaluate the terms and language conventions that may hinder effective communication, harm morale, and deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from feeling accepted to foment a healthy and inclusive culture,” their executive summary states.

The Words Matter Task Force listed dozens of words and phrases they found to be offensive

It’s safe to say most people would take extra steps in their day-to-day lives to avoid intentionally hurting one another’s feelings, but the list contains almost entirely innocuous words and phrases ingrained in American speech. When the seriousness of this proposal became apparent, critics saw the university’s move as yet another example of cancel culture on college campuses.

Words like “picnic,” “brown bag,” “uppity,” “handicapped,” or any language which is either gendered or contains the prefix/suffix “-man” failed the inclusivity check. It’s unclear whether these words were chosen based on an actual complaint to the department or if the task force took a proactive approach to censoring words they could perceive as potentially harmful.

The Words Matter Task Force suggests using “gatherings” in lou of “picnic,” “lunch and learn” instead of “brown bag,” the suffix “-person” instead of “-man.”

‘Manhours’ or ‘mankind’ would be replaced with ‘person hours’ or ‘people kind.’

According to the UK Daily Mail, “the word ‘picnic’ appears to be banned because of false suggestions on the internet that it originates from the racist, extrajudicial killings of African Americans.” However, “the word picnic actually comes from the 17th century French word ‘pique-nique,’ a term used to describe a social gathering in which attendees each contributed with a portion of food.”

Other terms historically used in IT to describe the relationship between functions, codes, systems, and other technical processes, such as “master/slave,” “disabled,” “blacklist,” or “privileged accounts” are suddenly no longer inclusive enough. Employees are encouraged to use “leader/follower,” “deactivated,” “allow list,” and “elevated account,” respectively.

“Native,” “low man on the totem pole,” and “off the reservation” are also now unacceptable, seemingly as they can be contrived as offensive to Native Americans.

When discussing “preferred pronouns,” “preferred” should be dropped from conversation as it implies the pronouns someone uses may not match their biological self.

The list of more than two dozen words is still considered a “draft.” The authors wrote “this list is not exhaustive and will continue to grow.”

The memorandum also encourages ITS staff to contact vendors and request they too follow the department’s new language guidelines, or at the very least are aware of imminent language changes.

When The College Fix initially reached out to the university, asking whether adherence to the task force’s speech regulations were mandatory and enforceable, the university declined to answer. “The University of Michigan’s Information and Technology Services leadership also did not respond to a request for comment from The Fix on whether the list could be seen as a form of policing language,” the Fix reported.

As criticism mounted, a university representative called the memo “a work in progress;” describing it as “ongoing work around language”, and “is part of the ITS effort to create a workplace that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.”

“As a unit that is part of a world-class educational institution,” they continued, “it’s important to make sure all members of the ITS team understand the impact of language. This effort remains a work in progress, but it’s important to remember this is an educational effort about language that will allow the ITS team to better serve the entire university community.”



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