It’s more than just a word

Our position: More students should speak out when they hear other students using derogatory language at school.

Throughout the school day, it’s not uncommon to hear people using words in a derogatory way. With startling frequency, the “R-word” is used as a joking insult and “gay” is used to describe something stupid. What is uncommon is hearing another student speak out. Students need to make a more conscious effort to speak out against this type of language and create a better environment for all students.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In high school especially, it can be scary to go against the grain and call someone out. Some may feel like it’s isolating, or maybe they don’t think it’s their place to tell a stranger what not to say. Maybe they’re afraid of being called a “social activist warrior” or told that they don’t have a sense of humor. However, if someone doesn’t say something, it’s very unlikely anybody will. If they’re using this language around their friends, their friends probably find it okay too. So if nobody speaks out, how is the person using that kind of language going to learn that it’s not okay? Spoiler alert: they won’t.

When people speak out against the use of derogatory language, it gives the person using said language the chance to learn and realize what they’re saying is not okay. Some people use these words without any intention to cause harm. They think that in the joking context they are acceptable and that the use of these words is harmless. This is not the case. When people use words like the “R-word” or “gay” in an insulting manner, they are implying that these traits are bad. They are creating an “us vs. them” environment where people whom these traits apply to are less likely to feel accepted.

The Special Olympics Northern California website describes how “‘the R-word’ hurts because it is exclusive. It is offensive.” Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, the more times a gay, lesbian or bisexual student heard the phrase “that’s so gay,” the more likely they were to report feelings of isolation and negative health symptoms like headaches or eating problems.

Maybe some people who are reading this are long-time offenders of using these words in a derogatory manner. Maybe they’ll ignore the obvious consequence their “harmless” words have and justify their choices with the first amendment’s right to free speech. But doesn’t that also mean everybody else has the right to freely speak out against said choice of speech?

With Say Something Week occurring next week, students will suddenly be surrounded with reminders to speak out against any form of bullying. Derogatory language is included under this umbrella. Instead of just putting a sticker on their water bottle, more people should challenge themselves to actually follow that sticker’s advice and speak out next week and every week. Even if it’s against someone they don’t know. Even if it’s scary. They may be happy they did. Someone around them may be happy they did.