OBSERVER NEWS

SAIS Diversity Committee Takes on Political Correctness in the 21st Century

BY MALCOLM WHITEHEAD

The SAIS Diversity Council (SDC) is a new student-led group at Johns Hopkins SAIS whose mission is to elevate the level of discussion on human and intellectual diversity within the SAIS community, creating a more dynamic and inclusive student body. SDC feels the most interesting and rewarding way to accomplish this mission is to leverage the wealth of backgrounds and exceptional intellect of the student body through open discussions focused on diversity issues that are deemed too sensitive or, erroneously, considered irrelevant for the purpose of everyday interactions. Through these interactions, the SAIS community increases its awareness and understanding of the different perspectives present in our community and the varied experiences that shape them.  The SDC’s aim is to create a welcoming and engaging community that will broaden the perspectives of SAIS graduates who go on to lead and shape policies that are integral to the development of their communities and the world as a whole.

The first SDC-hosted discussion of the school year was a conversation about political correctness and its role in society.  More specifically, the group encouraged students to share their insight into circumstances and nuances of political correctness: when it is used as a tool for understanding complex issues or simply dismissing these issues as innocent mishaps. The SDC discussion began by prompting students to discuss whether or not they believe the United States suffers from an overly politically correct orientation, limiting its ability to discuss and ferret out root causes for some of the major issues of race and discrimination that face the nation. The discussion expanded to address if the level of “PCness”, or political correctness, in the U.S. is reflective of a change in social norms and if there are any stark differences to the level of its use in other countries by looking at how political correctness is perceived by the public and used in the media. Over the course of two hours, students examined the global use of PCness in the 21st century and the cross-generational and cross-cultural evolution of language among individuals and communities. In total, the discussion group included almost 30 current students from a wide range of countries, backgrounds, and concentrations who shared insights and perspectives derived from their personal lives.

One area of particular interest was the topic of what is commonly referred to as “Islamic Terrorism” and the reluctance of some to use the term. Some members of the group saw this reluctance as restricting discussion on the issue, hindering generation of tangible solutions to a very real area of cultural and political tension. The discussion also highlighted the use of slurs in common vernacular and finally closed with a discussion on the complexities of the term “politically correct,” and whether categorizing certain topics in this way impeded open communication. With students sharing their personal experiences with and interpretations of the term, the group was able to increase its understanding of the impact this term has on a simultaneously global yet personal level and offer ways to leverage PC as a tool for handling situations of miscommunication and discrimination.  
The second SDC discussion was October 6 on the topic of Gender Equality in the Workplace.  SDC also co-hosted a happy hour with Global Women in Leadership (GWL).  SAIS as an institution teaches us to analyze the world on a global scale.  With student help, the SDC strives to be an institution for SAIS students to learn to analyze the world on a human scale.

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