Amherst College’s Glossary of ‘Wokeness’

(Jonathan Drake/Reuters)
Campus politics are increasingly deranged, and college administrators have a lot to answer for.

When Samuel Abrams, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and professor at Sarah Lawrence College, surveyed national data on the political views of college administrators, he revealed that liberal staff members outnumber their conservative counterparts at a ratio of twelve-to-one, and suggested (oh so gently) in a New York Times op-ed that this kind of imbalance might be a problem for “the free and open exchange of ideas.”

As detailed here by yours truly and here by National Review’s David French, Abrams was then treated appallingly by Sarah Lawrence College’s students and staff.

Abrams’s basic point – that students arrive on campus fairly liberal and are taught by very liberal professors and socialized by extremely liberal administrators – should concern anyone who cares about the integrity of higher education.

Last month a document produced by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Resource Center Team at Amherst College in Massachusetts, titled “Common Language Guide,” surfaced. The document was described by its authors as a “list of carefully researched and thoughtfully discussed definitions for key diversity and inclusion terms.”

And what did they come up with? A slew of rather obscure definitions of oppressive behaviors and structures such as “eurocentrism,” “heterosexism,” “ethnosexism,” “cissexism,” as well as more heard-of terms such as “ageism,” “classism,” and “racism.”

“Microaggressions,” the document explained, are “rooted in institutional oppression” and involve “verbal and nonverbal indignities and denigrating messages targeting people of historically and presently marginalized backgrounds.” This translates as insults, both accidental and deliberate. (Insults and slights are unpleasant, but are they really so ideologically loaded? Might this be encouraging people to be overly sensitive?)

It defined “critical race theory” as a “theoretical framework that critically examines the intersections of race, power and the law” and condemned the view (admittedly naïve, especially given the content of the document) that society has moved beyond racialized barriers. It described such views as a deadly “post-racial ideology,” capable of causing “racial battle fatigue,” which can result in “high blood pressure, anxiety, frustration, shock, anger and depression.”

A section on gender identity theory included definitions of “tucking: the practice of concealing the penis and testes so that the person’s front is flat, or without a bulge, especially in tight clothing.” Indeed, “tucking,” we learn, “involves pushing the penis between one’s legs and then putting underwear or tape on to keep it in place. It can also involve tucking the testes back up inside the person.” As well as “binding: a method reducing or flattening the appearance of one’s chest” by which the author clearly means breasts belonging to a female.

Think such practices sound uncomfortable and unhealthy? Worry that obsessing about students’ genitals is odd? Be careful. That might count as “transphobia.”

Gender identity also covered new terms such as “boi: masculine-presenting queer black women whose gender presentation can be more fluid and/or androgynous than completely masculine.” The heading “sexual and romantic identity” included definitions of “BDSM,” “demisexual,” “demiromantic,” all framed positively or neutrally, while “heterosexual privilege” was named as another sin.

The document is far more preoccupied with students’ love lives than with wider society. However it does briefly touch upon economics, politics, and culture by leaving room to explain that “capitalism” is “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. This system leads to exploitative labor practices, which affect marginalized groups disproportionately.” And “American exceptionalism” is also immoral. And adopting the hairstyles of marginalized groups might constitute “cultural appropriation.”

As one might expect, some found this document to be rather overreaching. Brantley Mayers of Amherst College Republicans told the Boston Herald that the college was unacceptably “establishing the parameters of speech.” After backlash, the college president, Biddy Martin, explained in a letter that she was “not aware” that the document had been produced, she agreed that it was “problematic,” and it was promptly retracted. Her full letter can be read here.

Norm Jones, the college’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, wrote in a statement that the goal was simply “to help create greater awareness of the ways many people at Amherst and beyond understand their own identities.” He also admitted that “it was a mistake to send it from my office to the entire community because of the implication that the guide is meant to dictate speech and expression or ideology on campus.”


Just as Abrams’s research raises a serious point about the kinds of socialization young people might undergo when they arrive on campus, this episode at Amherst College makes one wonder what, exactly, is the influence of “diversity” and “inclusion” officers? Do they create a welcoming and fertile learning environment for all students (as I’m sure they intend to) or do they facilitate their indoctrination, fill their heads with toxic nonsense, and slam their minds shut?

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

Most Popular

Film & TV

A Sad Finale

Spoilers Ahead. Look, I share David’s love of Game of Thrones. But I thought the finale was largely a bust, for failings David mostly acknowledges in passing (but does not allow to dampen his ardor). The problems with the finale were largely the problems of this entire season. Characters that had been ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Great Misdirection

The House Democrats are frustrated, very frustrated. They’ve gotten themselves entangled in procedural disputes with the Trump administration that no one particularly cares about and that might be litigated for a very long time. A Washington Post report over the weekend spelled out how stymied Democrats ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More