A signboard reads "Time for Change"Using Inclusive Language

By Kelsey Wells and Ben Williams

Last year, CDSS created a style guide to help govern all of our outward-facing publications. What started as a project to update our logo and make sure all our blues matched ended up being an opportunity to take a fresh look at our habits (or lack thereof) around language and grammar.

Embarrassingly, this is the first time CDSS has used an internal style guide across all our publications, and we’ve already seen many benefits of having such a structure to guide our writing and copyediting. One ongoing benefit is the reminder to constantly think about our word choices and try to decide how they could potentially be harmful.

In the past few months, some of our staff have been intentionally learning about liberatory language practices, and we want to share a little about what that means for the News and other CDSS communications with you.

Alex Kapitan, of radicalcopyeditor.com, defines liberatory language as language that “not only actively affirms all life and the full diversity of human experience, it also works constantly to communicate love, compassion, and nonviolence.” We also think of these qualities as great strengths of our dance, music, and song communities!

One of CDSS’s four core values is Inclusivity. How can we claim to have a core value of inclusivity if we knowingly publish harmful language?

This language ranges from racially-charged epithets we can all agree should be removed from our vocabularies, to common words like “crazy”—a word we probably use every day without thinking as an adjective to mean “wild” or “intense.” What harm can using a word like “crazy” do? On one level, it’s been actively used as an epithet against women and people with mental illness. On another level, it subtly reinforces a worldview in which mental illness is derided, problematic, and unworthy.

Our goal isn’t to avoid offending people, or to be “politically correct” (a term which itself was originally created and used disparagingly) but instead to be welcoming and thoughtful. We want to be sensitive in how we communicate, just like we would with friends and loved ones, as described in this excellent series of articles by Alex Kapitan.

Armed with a better understanding, CDSS is looking forward to updating the language on our website (as well as in our regular communications) as we plan a major redesign later this year. We will no doubt make mistakes, and we welcome your feedback in pointing out language we use that is harmful as we learn and grow.

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