Stanford professor slams school’s ‘ham-handed’ ban on harmful words like ‘American’

Stanford professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya warned of the “dangerous” potential consequences of the university’s recent move to remove “harmful language” from its websites and data codes.

Stanford University explained that the goal of the new “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” is to remove racist, violent or biased language. The banned words were put into different categories such as ableist, gender-based and culturally appropriative.

Bhattacharya, a naturalized U.S. citizen, acknowledged that Stanford had good intentions with the initiative, but he said it was disappointing to see a list of “banned words,” particularly the term “American.”

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“I can understand where they’re coming from. What they’re trying to do is create an atmosphere of respect for other people,” Bhattacharya said on “The Ingraham Angle” Wednesday. “But this is such a ham-handed way to try to go about it.”

The list offers options for the prohibited words. For example, Stanford categorized the term “immigrant” as a “reductive descriptor” and encouraged the use of the phrase “a person who has immigrated” instead.

The guide also suggested saying “American citizen” instead of the word “American” because there are other countries in the Americas.

A view of the Hoover Tower and the Stanford University campus as seen from Stanford Stadium.

A view of the Hoover Tower and the Stanford University campus as seen from Stanford Stadium.
(David Madison/Getty Images)

Bhattacharya referred to himself as an “immigrant” and explained to host Sean Duffy that the title “American” is part of his identity. One of the happiest moments of his life, he said, was becoming a naturalized citizen at 20.

“I’m proud to be an American. That word means a lot to me,” he said, explaining that he has been at Stanford for 36 years as a student and then a professor.

“I like this word, it’s part of my identity, it’s part of who I am – [for it to be] forbidden, is crazy. It’s actually not going to promote respect.”

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He suggested that a better solution would be to have productive discussions about ideas and potentially problematic language so that students can be better equipped to pick up and understand them.

He argued that banning people from saying certain words is counterproductive.

“I see a list of such words and I want to say those words,” Bhattacharya said. “I can’t be the only one.”

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Bhattacharya said many of his colleagues are also unhappy with the initiative, and he warned that banning words is dangerous.

“This comes at a moment where we have the federal government wanting to suppress speech. You have major universities trying to control the words you say,” he said.

“It just makes people think what has gone wrong with big universities like Stanford.”

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