Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me…or CAN they?

Hi! My name is Lizzie Gill, and I work for the Department of Residence Life as a Community Development Specialist in the area of Diversity Education. The U-Matter team has asked me to guest blog this week on the subject of inclusive language. Last spring, I began working with the U-Matter team and I want to explain a little bit about how it all started.

About a year ago, I went to a conference at UW-Eau Claire for student leaders. WORD. was one of the program offerings, and I figured I’d head to the room and try it out. The presenter, a resident assistant from UW-Milwaukee, came out to the hallway and asked us to wait outside until everyone arrived. She told us that whatever we witness in the room would stay respectfully confidential. I was a little hesitant, since I had no idea what was going on, but it wasn’t long before I realized.

She opened the door, and what I saw inside was disgusting. It really was. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, table and chairs were all covered with derogatory, hateful terms. Ones I don’t feel comfortable writing in this blog. After about a minute of absorbing everything, she led us in an activity about the effects of hurtful words. We talked about our personal experiences with those words and removed them from the room.  After the room was cleared, it was much more welcoming and comfortable, and in a way, think that’s reflective of our community.

It was challenging, thought provoking, and it stuck with me days and weeks after leaving the conference. I heard these words thrown around our hall, without recognizing the history and/or the hurt behind them. I decided that this program was something that Oshkosh needs.

The students from UW-Milwaukee were thrilled that we wanted to bring it to our campus. We adapted it to reflect the UW-Oshkosh experience, including more social justice pieces, such as bias incident training and intervention skill building.

The program is now called Say What?!  Though it wasoriginally planned for Fletcher hall, it has been done across different campus settings. Please, please—if you hear one is being hosted near you—go! It is an amazing discussion about respect and inclusion.

If you have questions about it, I’d love to hear from you! My email address is gille49@uwosh.edu. Thanks, everyone, and good luck with the rest of the semester.

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