Brandeis’ Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center compiled a list of terms and phrases that they recommend being cautious of using. Julie Jette, who is representing PARC in the media, said, “The list was never an official Brandeis policy, and no member of the university community was ever required to consult with or use the list. Brandeis has a deep commitment to free speech and free expression.” Rather, the list is a compilation of words that may be harmful or offensive to others, and a way for people to be more sensitive to other people’s emotions. On PARC’s website, the group says that the list is meant to be “a tool to share information and suggestions about potentially oppressive language. Use of the suggested alternatives is not a university expectation or requirement. The language you choose to use or not use is entirely up to you.”

The list encourages the use of gender-neutral words and phrases, such as “y’all” or “folks” as opposed to “you guys”; “first-year student” as opposed to “freshman”; and “police officer” as opposed to “policeman.” Many of the words and phrases they suggest refraining from using have violent connotations, like “you’re killing it,” “wife-beater” and “picnic.” According to the list, “the term picnic can be associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating.” 

Once published, the list quickly gained publicity and attention from smaller, local news outlets as well as larger, national media sources. The Atlantic published an opinion piece by linguist and Columbia University professor John McWhorter that was critical of some of the words and phrases included on the list. McWhorter writes, “We are being preached to by people on a quest to change reality through the performative policing of manners.” The Daily Mail and the New York Post also published articles about the list, the latter referring to Brandeis as an “ultra-woke” college.

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Joyce Carol Oates critiqued the list in a series of tweets, saying, “what is strange is that while the word ‘picnic’ is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word ‘lynching’ is not itself censored.”

Other examples of words and idioms on the list that provoked attention include “rule of thumb,” which PARC says “allegedly comes from an old British law allowing men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb; however, no written record of this law exists today.” Another is “trigger warning,” which can be replaced with “content note.” According to PARC, the phrase “trigger warning” can cause additional stress, as it signifies that something is imminent, and it would be impossible to address everyone’s triggers. 

On their website, PARC states that “language is a powerful tool that can be used to perpetrate and perpetuate violence and oppression. As a community, we can strive to remove language that may hurt those who have experienced violence from our everyday use.” PARC has been open and responsive to feedback. Due to the confusion regarding whether or not the list was official Brandeis policy, the list was taken down from the University’s website and is now on its own website. They have received hundreds of suggestions for words and phrases to be added to the list, and in a statement they made it clear that “true to the spirit of the list itself, sharing knowledge about the impact of language is a community effort; feedback from other Brandeis students has helped and continues to help the list improve.” The list remains open for suggestions and additional feedback from community members is welcome.