“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” – Toni Morrison.
Considering the impact of language on a person’s sense of safety, it is not surprising that many people feel alienated, and many community initiatives splinter, over conflicts about language. Hurtful language can become a form of passive violence. Alternately, respectful, kind language can build bridges between communities. Say This Not That works to support learners, educators, writers, journalists, marketers and community leaders by providing learning opportunities that encourage good digital citizenship.
The STNT platform will include a text editor that evaluates a body of text, both to identify potentially harmful words and to provide alternate suggestions. Users are also given curated content and resources for further exploration of topics related to the alternate suggestions.
While we cannot stop problematic terms from appearing in our society, we can urge others to reject these definitions through the STNT user platform. Because language constantly evolves, those who seek to resist harmful language need a tool that tracks the most up to date phrases and offers alternatives. STNT will provide users with a trusted source of alternate terminologies, while simultaneously creating a community of connected learners.
The STNT lexicon will be built and curated by a community of collaborators currently working on issues of equity and inclusion, making them trusted partners. STNT collaborators discuss problematic terms about marginalized communities when they arise, and then they learn from each other how to communicate respectfully with, or about, those communities. With STNT, our collaborators will be able to develop their learnings through the platform, and share that learning with the broader online community.
STNT in Educational Settings
STNT will expand students’ sense of connected learning. The collaborative platform will connect students to the community groups whose work it is to generate the dictionary and resource materials. In addition, STNT provides students with a resource for co-learning in classroom settings. Students seeking to write assignments with respectful language will have the opportunity to utilize STNT during draft stages of their writing. Instructors may utilize STNT during class discussion, when a particular phrase is used that raises tension. If they find the word is not already in the STNT dictionary, they then have the opportunity to make a contribution themselves.
Creating a civil and inclusive society that recognizes diversity is at the heart of Say This, Not That. STNT provides a space for youth and young adults to develop social and emotional literacies through investigating the resources connected to each word/phrase in the STNT dictionary. STNT brings together existing analysis – from a Jose Antonio Vargas piece on the language of “illegal immigrant” in Time magazine to Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication book to the International Press Institute’s Use With Care Handbook – into one platform. STNT’s easily accessible and constantly updated platform will provide a focal point for resources that model, and encourage, social and emotional literacies.
Here is an example on how STNT can promote access to a learning environment:
A civics class in Portland has been discussing the politics of candidates in an upcoming election by reading public materials of candidates. An LGBTQ student in the class notices that one of the candidates uses homophobic terminology in a speech but goes unnoticed by others because this language is often accepted as normal. The student is also afraid to speak up in class about this in fear of negative reactions by others. As a participant in a program at the Western States Center which uses Say This, Not That within their own training, the student eventually uses it to evaluate the speech and collect content and resources related to the harmful use of words. The results are anonymously shared with the teacher who eventually uses the tool in class to review other material and share it with all the class to discuss LGBTQ rights.
Discussions about race, gender, class, abilities can sometimes get heated and, at worst, can debilitate people on the receiving end of the problematic word. STNT is not meant to “police” language or to promote political correctness. We want learners to have intrinsic desires to use just and inclusive language. We believe that extrinsic motivations generate short-lived behavior change. STNT encourages allies to oppressed communities to use STNT to learn on their own, and to explore the potential harms of using oppressive language.