We got a visit Thursday night from a few dozen people who delivered letters and a petition asking The Daily Tar Heel to change its style guide.
They would like to see us use the word “chair” instead of “chairman” or “chairwoman,” and “upper-level student” instead of “upperclassman,” in order to be more inclusive.
I agree completely with them that there is much work to be done in eliminating violence and discrimination against women. And discrimination against people uncomfortable being labeled male or female is definitely a pressing issue.
We have covered these issues extensively on our pages in the past few years, and we will continue to do so.
But this year, at least, we will not be adopting gender-neutral language.
Our business is communication. Like it or not, words like “freshman” and “upperclassman” are what people most easily understand. They also correspond to Associated Press style, which is used by almost every news organization in the nation.
Of course, just because something is accepted does not make it right.
For the majority of women I have spoken to, being called a freshman has never made them feel like less of a person.
And in our stories, we identify people as they wish to be identified.
Changing words doesn’t change the fact that there are gender inequities. Focusing on words — instead of the root problems — only gives the words a more negative context.
Let’s find a way together to most efficiently and effectively address these issues.