Letter to the editor: Allison Agre

Dear USD, language matters

Allison Agre is a senior at  the University of San Diego. In her letter to the editor, Agre responds to the controversy behind the Language Matters campaign.

Dear USD,

My name is Allison Agre; I am a senior at this school, and I was involved in the creation of the Language Matters poster series that has been a topic of heated conversation over the last month. My face is proudly displayed on the “I don’t say fag” poster. As you are probably aware, there has been a variety of responses to these posters — both positive and negative. First of all, I am glad that we are talking about it. I am glad that the controversy has sparked dialogue. I encourage everyone to keep talking and to keep questioning. We should always be challenging the things that we are told instead of just blindly accepting them. With that being said, there are just a few things that I want to get off my chest.

To begin, as a white, straight woman from a middle-class background, I know that I have had a lot of privilege in my life. Many other Americans, including people at USD, have not experienced all of the privilege that I have. Throughout my time in college, I have been able to engage in discussions surrounding privilege and social justice, and I am so glad that my education and experiences have enabled me to talk about these issues. Our society is full of inequities and their constant persistence, so, although the majority of my identities are privileged, I want to be able to empathize with and stand in solidarity with people who have experienced oppression in ways that I never will.

I apologize if you felt attacked by these posters. That was not the intention. The intention was to make us all aware of the meanings that our words may carry. The students, faculty, and staff on these posters chose their statements because of issues that are important to them and messages that they wanted to share with our campus community. If you do not think of some of these words as being offensive, then I urge you to think about the privilege you hold that allows you to not be offended or hurt.

Yes, you have the freedom to say the words that you want to say. I do not want to take that freedom away from you. But, guess what? I also have the freedom to voice how I feel about words and phrases that I believe perpetuate a certain ideology that I do not support, and I will continue to exercise my freedom to do this.

I know that there is general agreement that some of the words and phrases from the posters are harmful — such as “bitch,” “tard,” and “fag.” I am happy that we agree that these words hurt certain communities and identities. A while back, words such as these were commonplace; however, the dialogue around them has since changed, and now we better understand the connotations that they carry. I want to encourage everyone to think about other words, even ones not on the posters, and identify the connotations that they carry. How do some words bring certain groups of people down?

I would like to discuss my own opinions on a few of the words and phrases that seemed to be more controversial.

One of the most controversial phrases was “you guys.” Now, do I think that people who say “you guys” are horrible people? No. Do I even get personally offended, as a woman, when people say “you guys”? No, I do not. And do I believe that this is the most pressing issue in the world? No. However, do I think that saying “you guys,” and the fact that it is so widespread and not even perceived as an issue, preserves an ideology that gives men more power than women? Yes, I do.

Now, let me talk about “normal.” This is a word that I believe is fine to say in many different contexts. What I do not think is fine is the pressure we place on people to homogenize and to be “normal.” The idea around normality can take away from people’s unique identities, and sets up expectations that are unrealistic. Normality causes a fear of difference and of celebrating our diversity.

Furthermore, the phrase “get over it” was not understood in the way it was meant to be. I believe that it was meant to be understood in light of conditions, such as depression and anxiety. These are conditions that are not easily “gotten over,” but the rhetoric often surrounding them suggests that they are not legitimate. And if a person just tries harder to “get over” them, then they will.

I wish I could write about more of these statements, but my letter is probably long enough. Please continue to engage in dialogue — I am happy to be a part of that dialogue with you.

As a united community, I hope we can stick up for, support, accept, seek to understand, and love one another.

Language does matter. Language forms identities, creates reality, preserves injustices, and disperses power. It is the base for building communities and gives us the capacity to think about our world in a certain way. Our words and how we use them are important.

With love,

Allison Agre