Wisconsin Standard

Power in Principle


Stanford University Creates a guide to eliminating harmful speech such as “American” and “User” from university websites.

Stanford University’s new harmful language index policy garners criticism from news and social media. 

Earlier this week, Stanford University released a harmful word index cautioning against ordinary language such as “American.” Initially launched in May, this project was self-describes as a “multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT at Stanford.” 

This 13-page document outlines and details ten sections filled with words deemed harmful by the Stanford CIO Council and People of Color in Technology. According to this guide, Person of Color is a harmful term in the imprecise language category.

The ten broad categories outlined are ableist, ageist, colonialist, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person first, violent, and additional consideration.

In the imprecise language category, they numbered the word American amongst the cautioned against words and replaced it with “United States Citizen.” The document outlines everything from colloquialisms deemed harmful to slurs. The term “addict” is dangerous, according to this guide; when referring to a cocaine addict, one should instead use cocaine devotee.

The guide lists “user” as an offensive word that should be replaced with “client.” Despite the classification as harmful, this document, under the description of “confined to a wheelchair,”  employs the word user. “Also, users of wheelchairs often find them to be an essential tool for their freedom instead of thinking of them as a prison.”

The writers of this guide intended for internal use only, but someone leaked it, and one can view the entirety of the document here.

The document does not outline who compiled the exact list or what factors they considered when determining what words to add or the words that should replace the terms they deemed harmful. These words are considered harmful, but the document states, “We are not attempting to assign levels of harm to the terms on this site.”

Stanford University is not the first school to have un-American, unconstitutional, specific speech and word choice regulations based on perceived harm.

Stanford has nine liberal student organizations but only four conservative student groups.

In the 2022 congressional election cycle, 94.36% of political donations went to Democrat candidates or related political action committees. Still, only 4.23% went to Republican campaigns or political action committees, according to data obtained from Open Secrets

FIRE Rated Stanford University with a yellow light.” Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”


POC-IT Planning Committee, Stanford Media Relations, Paula Welander, Associate Diversity Equity and Inclusion Dean, Guadalupe Carillo, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, and Stanford College Republicans did not respond to Wisconsin Standard’s request for comment in time for publication.

Billy Blathras is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves as the Chairman of the Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans and is the publisher of the Wisconsin Standard.