Warren Wilson College News

Language in Campus Communications

Last month there was an incident in which a member of our campus community used a racially charged word in the context of a poem, which was part of a general electronic communication sent to faculty.

I’m writing to (a) let you know the steps that were taken after that event and (b) make a statement about the use of such language in campus communications.

While there may be some ambiguity about how and why the word was used, I am concerned about its use in any context on campus and, therefore, took the following actions:

1. I discussed the issue with the Administrative Council and with others.

2. I asked the VPAA to communicate my concerns to the faculty member who wrote the email issued.

3. The faculty member issued a public email apology for use of the racially charged word.

4. I spoke in Staff Forum about the need for care and discretion in all our campus communications.

5. I selected a Communication Ad Hoc Committee to address the issue of language use and other behaviors related to campus communications.

6. I asked the Diversity Task Force to continue its discussions on the subject.

Yesterday, April 12, the chair of the Communication Ad Hoc Committee, John Casey, sent me a report on the committee’s deliberations. Following is the text of that report: "The ad hoc committee met today. We decided to request that the Diversity Taskforce place the internet use policy among the college policies it is considering with respect to hate speech, etc. I will transmit that request to Cathy Kramer. We decided further to make sure that the current policy is readily available on the inside page and to make sure that those receiving new email accounts are informed of the policy. Ben Anderson is responsible for the former and David Harper and I will work out the details for new employees and students before the new crop arrive in July and August. I will review other policies seeking the best way to deal with sanctions for those who violate the policy. Currently the sanctions are obviously meant for students and we need to include employees and others with email accounts as well. Having parsed out these responsibilities, we found no reason to meet as a committee again."

The suggestions of the Communication Ad Hoc Committee have been accepted and will be implemented. As well, I am looking forward to seeing the results of the deliberations of the Diversity Task Force. While I am interested in the follow-up provided by various individuals and committees discussing the topic, my job as president compels me to make the following clear statement on the subject at this time–now that the Communication Ad Hoc Committee has submitted its findings.

Racially charged language–or any form of "hate speech"–should never appear in any College communication. As a group of people who value the background and feelings of all our members, we know the damaging effect that such words can have on our colleagues–even if there is no apparent discriminatory purpose involved in their use. Therefore, it is important that we display caution, care, and concern when we construct our messages.

This subject is a difficult one–we all know that. I thank you for working with me to maintain an inviting and sustaining environment for all members of the Warren Wilson College community.


Sandy Pfeiffer


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