When people talk to me, I can often rest assured that they are not intending to be offensive. But sometimes, people do not realize the implications of what they say. Below, then, you will find two Stanford-isms, or common sayings on campus, that never fail to make me cringe. One may dismiss these as pet peeves, but I contend that they are more substantial and have no place whatsoever in our lexicon.
1. “Techie/fuzzy (divide)”
Oh how I wish this one would just disappear! It is an arbitrary distinction that serves little substantive purpose. Some use the techie/fuzzy lingo to quickly differentiate between fields of study. But rather than calling me a techie to describe my major, why not just say I major in a STEM field?
Others, though, use the “techie” and “fuzzy” labels to differentiate between modes of thought: regardless of one’s major, a student is either a techie or a fuzzy based on the way she views the world. But does labeling students in this manner accurately describe who they are? I have a friend who, when someone asks him whether he is a techie or a fuzzy, responds “I am a human.” I like his answer. We are all humans, after all. Our brains do not just see things from a technical or humanist perspective, but rather both. Many people may cite the right-brain/left-brain differences as evidence that the techie/fuzzy divide is not arbitrary. However, although there may be differences between the two hemispheres of our brain, the hemispheres are interconnected and traits like creativity do not map neatly to one side or the other.
The techie/fuzzy distinction, unfortunately, reinforces this inaccurate interpretation of the science and, furthermore, gives students a convenient excuse to shirk intellectual challenges. “Don’t ask me how to edit your paper, I’m a techie,” or “Don’t blame me for doing the calculation wrong, I’m a fuzzy.” Not only do students propagate these labels, but members of the administration resort to this unnecessary language when describing students. As Harry Elam recently said, “we hope that techie students can discover their inner fuzziness and vice versa.” Although I agree with Mr. Elam’s primary message, the manner in which he says it only hurts his cause. The continuation of this dated distinction has no place at a university like Stanford, and it is my sincere hope that more students, faculty and administrators will come to this conclusion.
2. “That’s so retarded.”
At some point before I came to Stanford, the phrase “That’s so gay” became taboo here. And for good reason: By calling something disagreeable “gay,” one is in effect associating homosexuality with something that is stupid, wrong or illogical. More often than not, the phrase “That’s so gay” was used by well-meaning people who never took the time to reflect on how their slang could be offensive to others.
I cannot comprehend how “That’s so retarded” is any different, and yet I hear that phrase or a close variation spoken about once a week. I think a lot of it has to do with the composition of our campus; Stanford has a fair number of gay students, but for obvious reasons one is hard-pressed to find a Stanford student who is cognitively challenged. Perhaps that is why this utterance is so often unchallenged. Yet this slang is not only insensitive to those who do have disabilities, but to their friends, families and countless other people. There’s nothing wrong with using negative adjectives to describe something you disagree with, but why resort to language that is denigrating towards those with cognitive disabilities? They are humans too, and it is time we treat them as such.
Which Stanford-isms make you wince? Email Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.