Monday, December 26, 2022
American or US citizen: Stanford language guide aims for inclusivity, ignites public debate
Stanford University's IT department released an internal guidance on the use of harmful language. Among other terms, they recommend the term "US citizen" instead of "American." Their reasoning is that the term American is overinclusive, and it overlooks Canadians, Central Americans, South Americans and other countries who are implied to be less important than the United States of America.
Conservative media outlets, like the Washington Times, have decried the Stanford language guide as bending to wokeness and the specific guidance on "American" to be unpatriotic. Stanford has said that banning language is not their intent and clarified for the broader public that the guide is not a ban on language, nor is it endorsed by the university writ large. Steve Gallagher, Stanford chief information officer, said
“We have particularly heard concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term ‘American.’ We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is the use of the term ‘American’ not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed.”
He continued by clarifying that the intent of this specific entry “was to provide perspective on how the term may be imprecise in some specific uses, and to show that in some cases the alternate term ‘U.S. citizen’ may be more precise and appropriate.”
Nevertheless, the public debate raises the question of whether US citizen is an inclusive term? Many Immprofs consider immigrants to be social or political members of communities, lending the term "American" an inclusive valence by recognizing identification with a community, not withstanding legal status. The status designation of "US citizen", in contrast, is the exclusive one, especially considering that legal designations of undocumented status can be inconclusive. In a related vein, critical race theorists express skepticism toward overemphasizing formal citizenship. Rose Cuison Villazor, in Rejecting Citizenship, elaborates on the point as a response to my book, Pursuing Citizenship in the Enforcement Era. It is an issue of importance and one that I wrestle with in a new article, Colorblind Nationalism and the Limits of Citizenship, while trying to envision alternatives to the binary legal status imprinted on policies surrounding membership and belonging in America. In short, the language and terms of belonging for immigrants is complex terrain that extends beyond the point-counterpoint debates surrounding the Stanford language guide.