The Pomona Student Union (PSU) hosted a discussion on political correctness and its role on campus Dec. 5. The “Snackussion” was organized by PSU members Rebecca Raible PO ’14 and Cameron Cook PO ’15.
Earlier this semester, Raible proposed that the PSU host such a discussion about political correctness and what the term means, she told TSL. When the debate over political correctness began to gain momentum over the past month, Raible felt that the student body would benefit from an opportunity to participate more actively in the debate, she added.
The discussion featured an informal panel of six students selected to help initiate a larger dialogue. Several of the students on the panel had already engaged in this debate or had written some of the related Opinions articles published in TSL.
Claire Yuan PO ’13, who participated in the panel, co-wrote an Opinions piece about political correctness that was published in last week’s issue of TSL. At the discussion, she explained why she believes that the debate over political correctness has proven particularly volatile.
“I understand [political correctness] largely as a popularly used shorthand for an ethic or a logic that is not popularly understood,” she said. “I personally don’t find it a very valuable term for structuring discourse about how we want to engage in political discussions because I think it’s a pejorative term.”
Much of the discussion involved attempts to define political correctness and to assess the intentions behind it.
Rachel Jackson PO ’15 defended political correctness as a way of examining how discrimination manifests in the words we use on a daily basis.
“I think political correctness is useful because it operates under the assumption that language is how we create meaning,” Jackson said. “We can just look at the language we’re using to see how ‘the system’ is structured. What is our language saying about who’s included and who’s enfranchised and who’s not?”
Daniel Mynick PO ’15 said that political correctness has stifled discourse.
“From my perspective, a lot of words that are so-called politically correct are actually just very intellectually dishonest,” Mynick said. “I understand that so-called politically correct words have often been used to combat things that have made people uncomfortable, but it seems to me like there is a moral judgment attached to people saying you’re using politically incorrect words.”
Adam Horowitz PO ’15 questioned whether the discourse here will prove as powerful outside of an academic community.
“I think a lot of the discourse I hear on discourse at Pomona College revolves around the Pomona bubble,” Horowitz said. “When someone corrects me, I have the benefit of an explanation that may come out of some patriarchal power structure that I did not understand before coming to this college. It’s intellectualized. It’s academic. Out in the real world, it’s an isolating discourse in a way because so much of it is so academic, so intellectual, so removed from certain levels dialogues.”
Students also discussed the negative connotations of the term “political correctness.”
Mauricio Navarro PO ’14 spoke about people who have expressed their frustration with others who they believe are excessively politically correct.
“A critique or an instance of calling out oppressive behavior gets called politically correct,” he said. “It gets dismissed.”
While the students who participated in the discussion did not reach a consensus on a definition of political correctness, they did explore many facets of the debate, including the significance of one’s intentions in the context of being politically correct or incorrect, the relevance of political correctness in an academic community and the degree to which one is morally obligated to be “politically correct.”
Navarro said that larger, underlying issues shape his own view of political correctness.
“I would encourage everyone to think about power and who is able to enact structural power and historical power,” he said. “Calling someone out and saying that your personal experience as a marginalized person is affected by another person’s actions—that can’t be censorship and never will be because censorship needs to have an act of power. It’s not necessarily about which word is better.”