The Dictionary Of The Modern Campus Activist
Modern students arriving on college campuses today will find themselves learning about far more than just mathematics, writing, science, and other well-worn aspects of a liberal college education.
College campuses are known for their political ferment, and modern campus activists have popularized or outright invented a vast vocabulary of new lingo to underly new identities and new grievances, whether they involve race, sex, or categories yet unknown to most. With that in mind, The Daily Caller News Foundation has compiled a short list of some of the most frequently-used terms, so that the brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents among our readers won’t be baffled and caught unawares by their use:
2-Spirit: A broad term that derives from individuals in Native American tribes, such as masculine women and feminine men, who did not follow conventional gender roles (the word itself is translated from the Ojibwe language). It has recently emerged as a popular label for gay and transgender individuals with Native American backgrounds.
Ableism: Hostility or discrimination on the basis of one’s physical or mental abilities. Common language is often labeled as “ableist” for thoughtlessly implying that certain disabilities are a bad thing, e.g. “my job is lame” or “his ex-girlfriend is insane.”
Ageism: Coined by Robert Neil Butler in the late 1960s, ageism refers to the practice of discriminating against people because of their age and treating them according to stereotypes. In practice, this might mean telling an older person that they might prefer to sit on the sidelines during a game of basketball, as they’re too advanced in their years to keep up.
Ally: An ally is a person who recognizes that they are the recipient of unearned privilege and instead of relying on that privilege to perpetuate oppression, acts to end privilege and uplift those with none (see privilege, below). Traditional examples of allies include those who are light-skinned, male, European, and middle to upper class. The term ally is contextual, meaning that a heterosexual male is an ally to a lower-class, light-skinned woman, but a lower-class, light-skinned woman is an ally to a lower class, dark-skinned woman.
Birth Assigned Sex: A modern, less offensive alternative to phrases like “biological sex.” Many transgender people prefer this because “biological sex” perniciously suggests that their gender is less natural than those of cisgendered people (see cisgendered, below).
Bodies: Sometimes used as a replacement for people, especially when in conjunction with “space.” For example, instead of “This frat house isn’t safe for black people,” activists may use “this is not a safe space for black bodies.”
Cisgendered: A person who identifies with the sex they were born with, e.g. a boy believing that he is, in fact, a boy. Rooted in the Latin prefix cis-, meaning “on this side of.” Popularized as the counterpart to transgendered, in order to make the two appear more equal. Some are “cis men,” others are “trans men,” and the two are equally ordinary.
Color-blind: The goal of having institutions and policies that aspire to ignore race completely. According to many activists, color-blind systems are undesirable because they are unachievable. It is allegedly impossible to ignore race, and supposed efforts to do so are often criticized as a surreptitious way to entrench racist systems.
Cultural Appropriation: Borrowing elements from another culture without sufficient reverence and citation, which is seen as offensive or, in the worst cases, as an extension of racism and even genocide. An accusation frequently leveled against white entertainers and performers who borrow from non-white cultures. For example, Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Music Awards in 2013 was blasted by some for “appropriating” the practice of twerking. You might think it’s impossible to “steal” something as basic as a dance move, but you’d be wrong.
Demisexual: A claimed sexual orientation where, rather than being attracted to a particular gender, a person claims to only be attracted to those they have a deep emotional attachment to.
Dialogue: A conversation between two parties. Campus activists will often say that they engage in protests in order to create dialogue. For example, when protesters disrupted an admitted students event at Dartmouth College, they claimed that by shouting at people they would achieve dialogue. Critics frequently counter that those speaking of “dialogue” really just want people to accept all of their demands.
Fat acceptance: A movement that attacks societal stigmas against being overweight, whether for health or beauty reasons. Those who criticize the overweight, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are attacked as “fat-shamers.” YouTube personality Nicole Arbour recently incited outrage for a video attacking the overweight and stating that “fat shaming is not a thing.”
Gender binary: The division of humanity into two discrete genders, male and female, which a person can only be one of. Many modern activists state that they reject the gender binary, and instead believe that gender is a continuum, meaning a person can be mostly male but partly female, equally split between male and female, or completely outside such terms entirely. In extreme cases, a person may claim to be mostly male on some days and mostly female on another.
GSRM (Gender, Sexuality, and Romantic Minorities): This heading is probably the most expansive and encapsulates the lot of social justice terminology, including trans and queer under the gender category, pansexual and sapiosexual under the sexuality category, and terms such as aromantic, polyamorous, and non-monogamous for the romantic category. The emphasis is on the “minorities” part of the phrase, as this subculture is often oppressed by Gender, Sexuality, and Romantic Majorities. If your student ever identifies as a transexual demisexual polyamorous aromantic, you can let him or her know you are hip to their ways and that you support their decision to be a GSRM.
Headmates: Preferred instead of the traditional and stigma-filled terms “Dissociative Identity Disorder” and “schizophrenia,” headmates refers to the existence of multiple friends or people living inside one’s head, with which one can have in-depth conversations. Headmates are also occasionally called “soul bonds” and “alters.” Popular on the blogging website Tumblr.
Heteronormativity: This refers to the pernicious practice of treating heterosexuality as the “natural” and normal way sexual relations and gender roles should be structured. It tyranically expels alternatives like skoliosexuality (attraction to transsexual people and expressions) as an acceptable way of identifying and is responsible for much oppression and sadness.
Internalized Oppression: Sometimes referred to as false consciousness, internalized oppression occurs when societal influence is so strong that a person succumbs to outside pressure and acts in accordance with a common stereotype. For example, it is often said a woman internalizes oppression when she participates in traditional gender roles.
Intersectionality: The study of links (‘intersections’) between different forms of oppression and discrimination. Often used as a means to bind different activists together though it can sometimes have the opposite effect. For instance, activists may claim that the cause of feminism requires addressing racism as well, because racism and sexism emanate from the same sources. Such a claim can lead to friction when activists of one stripe accuse others of putting insufficient focus on their plights. See, for example, ongoing attacks against “white feminism.”
Kyriarchy: A neologism derived from Greek meaning “rule by a lord,” kyriarchy is the term used to describe a society built around interlocking systems of oppression. It is a catch-all term that allows for the simultaneous discussion of sexism, racism, classism, and a great many other -isms.
Micro-aggression: Minor actions that are used to collectively reinforce the oppression of one group by another. For example, a white man entering an office building may microaggress against a black man by flashing his security badge at him while entering a building, as he has assumed the black man must be a security guard rather than a professional office worker. Some sources have further subdivided micro-aggressions into micro-insults, micro-assaults, and micro-invalidations.
Nano-aggression: Coming in the form of facial tics and other nano-level behaviors, this type of aggression is almost entirely invisible to the naked eye and often requires the expertise of an experienced social justice activist to identify. These are thought to be much more numerous than even micro-aggressions.
Neuroatypical: An alternative term for individuals with mental disorders, in order to acknowledge their difference without suggesting there is anything “wrong” with them. Often preferred by individuals with high-functioning autism, it has also spread to other communities such as the bipolar.
Okay: A general label of acceptability for just about anything, usually only referenced when absent. Rather than declaring “that’s immoral,” “that’s racist,” or “that’s illegal,” activists will frequently disparage something by declaring “that’s not okay.”
Otherkin: Individuals who claim that while they are human physically, they actually possess the soul of a different creature, typically an animal. Otherkin is a general term, while a person who identifies spiritually as, for example, a wolf, would identify as “wolfkin.” There are otherkin for inorganic objects such as motorcycles, as well as for fictional creatures such as dragons and Vulcans. Some people prefer the term “therian” for people who identify with real-life animals, reserving “otherkin” solely for those who identify with fictional beings.
Pangender: A person who identifies as “all genders.”
Pansexual: A person who feels sexual attraction towards all genders and gender identities. Not to be confused with bisexuals, who are completely different.
Patriarchy: Systematic oppression of women by men throughout history, which is said to continue today. Patriarchy can be both visible and invisible, and can exist without any deliberate action by men through interlocking assumptions and subconscious biases. Feminists really want to “smash” it.
Person “of color” (POC): A person who is not white, though often Caucasian Hispanics and Arabs (who are white according to the Census Bureau) are included under the label as well. Increasingly preferred to older terms such as “minorities.” Also strongly preferred over “colored people,” which is regarded as offensive despite being very similar.
Privilege: The various benefits, abilities, and opportunities that are available to certain people due to their membership within a group. Among activists, the primary forms of privilege are “white privilege,” “male privilege,” and “straight privilege,” which are used as explanations for any benefits or advantages those groups enjoy in life. Privilege is seen as inherited, and while it can be acknowledged and “checked,” it can never be truly eliminated, similar to original sin.
Problematic: Like “not okay,” a term often used in order to state in vague terms that something is unacceptable. For example, a Jezebel article published in 2014 labels a pop song as “problematic” for not correctly promoting fat acceptance.
Queer: A catch-all term that reappropriates an anti-gay slur, and refers to all people who identify as something other than heterosexual and cisgendered. Some individuals identify exclusively as “queer” without accepting any further label. Queer may also be used as a verb, generally to describe introducing LGBT concepts into various areas. For example, people have gone about “queering” slavery, anarchism, or the Bible.
Sapiosexual: An alleged sexual orientation where a person is attracted to intelligence rather than a particular gender. Even some pretty open-minded people find this a bit of a stretch.
Space: Like with “bodies,” a term often used in place of more common alternatives such as “building” or “place.” Typically used in reference to “safe spaces,” which all GSRMs require. Given the extremely low rates of crime on modern campuses, it can be surprisingly difficult for a space to be sufficiently “safe.”
Transabled: Like transgenderism, but with physical abilities. A physically fit person, for example, may have a deep internal longing to be a paraplegic, and use a wheelchair despite not physically requiring one. Typically labeled as a mental disorder, there are others who promote transablism as a perfectly acceptable life choice.
Transfat: Not to be confused with the artificial fat doctors have warned you about. Rather, this refers to thin people who identify as having substantially more weight than it appears they have on a surface-level analysis. Self-identified transfats may stuff pillows under their shirts as an external symbol to represent deep and innate feelings of fatness.
Transracial: Like transgenderism, but with race. So, a person may have white heritage and appear to be white, but deep down they feel they are actually black and identify as such. Ever seen a white guy with a good grove? He might identify as a transracial black man. Such claims may occasionally create friction with those who worry about appropriation.
Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF): A TERF is a feminist who believes that transsexual women (that is, people born male who identify as women) are incorrectly and oppressively appropriating womanness, since transsexuals–on some level–will always be men.
Trigger/Trigger warning: Individuals who claim to suffer from PTSD often say they can be “triggered” (that is, have a PTSD or other panic attack) by various pictures or descriptions of events similar to trauma they claim to have endured. “Trigger warnings” are a response to this, as many have begun demanding that suitable public warnings be given before any content that might “trigger” a person. At many colleges, such as the University of California, Santa Barbara, students have called for trigger warnings to be included in all course syllabi, with a blanket allowance for students who fear being “triggered” to skip any classes they want.
Whiteness: A social identity primarily, but not exclusively, associated with those who are racially white. According to activists, “whiteness” defines what is considered normal in society; to be “white” is to be the norm and to accept the exclusion and devaluation of all who are not considered “white.” As a result, it has been proposed that the widespread success of Asian-Americans and their assimilation in the American elite means that they have acquired “whiteness” even if they are in racial terms not white.
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