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University Warns Students About Using Phrases Like ‘I Know Exactly How You Feel’


James Madison University via Steve Heap /

James Madison University has apparently jumped on the speech regulation bandwagon that is sweeping across colleges campuses throughout the country.  Students leaders who participated in freshman orientation were provided with a list of “dumb” things to avoid saying that included phrases like “you are so articulate,” “the same thing happens to me too,” or “I know exactly how you feel.”

The list was apparently derived from Dr. Maura Cullen’s book 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say that Widen the Diversity Gap.

The seven-page handout listing phrases students should not say also includes an explanation of the “intent” of the phrase and its “impact” on others.  For example, the handout says the phrase “you have a pretty face” is usually said to an overweight person with intent of offering them hope “that if they just shed some pounds the rest of their body could be pretty as well.”  The impact of using the phrase, according to the handout, is that it “infers that the person has so much potential, if only they were not fat….”

The existence of the handout was first revealed by The College Fix.  James Madison University spokesman Bill Wyatt told the online news outlet “this was just an exercise, prior to orientation, to get our volunteers to understand how language affects others. The list was not distributed to our first-year students nor were the volunteers instructed not to use the phrases.”

However, some of the JMU orientation handout materials obtained by the website appear to contradict some of Wyatt’s claims.  A document titled “Building an Inclusive Environment” that was included with the list of phrases handout pointedly reminds orientation leaders that they have a duty to “create a safe an inclusive environment for your first year students” and instructs them to use the list of phrases “as a resource to help accomplish this goal.”  The document also instructs orientation leaders to “take some time to reflect on your prejudices and biases, and how that might affect your interactions with students.”

Here is the complete list of “dumb” phrases:

1. “Some of my best friends are …”
2. “I know exactly how you feel.”
3. “I don’t think of you as …”
4. “The same thing happens to me too.”
5. “It was only a joke! Don’t take things so seriously.”
6. What do ‘your’ people think.”
7. “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?”
8. “I don’t see color” or “I’m color blind.”
9. “You are so articulate.”
10. “It is so much better than it used to be. Just be patient.”
11. “You speak the language very well.”
12. Asking black people about their hair or hygiene.
13. Saying to LBGTQ people “what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom is your business.”
14. “Yes, but you are a ‘good’ one.”
15. “You have such a pretty face.”
16. “I never owned slaves.”
17. “If you are going to live in this country, learn to speak the language!”
18. “She/he is a good person. She/he didn’t mean anything by it.”
19. “When I’ve said the same thing to other people like you, they don’t mind.”
20. Calling women “girls, honey, sweetie pie” or other familiar terms.
21. When people of color say, “It is not the same thing.”
22. When people of faith say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
23. When white men say, “We are the ones being discriminated against now!”
24. Referring to older people as “cute.”
25. Asking a transgender person, “What are you really? A man or a woman?”
26. Referring to the significant other, partner, or spouse of a same gender couple as their “friend.”
27. “Why do ‘they’ (fill in the blank) always have to sit together? They are always sticking together.”
28. “People just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”
29. People with disabilities are “courageous.”
30. “That’s so gay/queer. That’s so retarded.”
31. “I don’t see difference. We are all part of the same race, the human race.”
32. I don’t care if you are pink, purple or orange, I treat all people the same.”
33. Asking a transgender person, “Have you had the operation.”
34. Saying to a Jewish person, “You are so lucky to have ‘your’ Christmas spread over a week!”
35. “Here’s another book on political correctness.”

[image via Steve Heap/ shutterstock]

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