Workshop educates students on power of language

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Students listen as Kirsten Calloway and Donnesh Amrollah conduct a workshop on the power of language and how it impacts the LGBTQQI community. This workshop is a part of Sexual Awareness Month.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Words can hurt as much as sticks and stones, as many people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can attest.

Students gathered Monday to discuss the power of language during “Word! Your Language Matters,” a workshop hosted by the student organizations Voices Against Violence, Queer Student Alliance and the Gender and Sexuality Center Leadership Council.

For members of sexual violence or gender discrimination, words can trigger debilitatingly painful memories, said biology senior Kirsten Callaway, who helped organize the event.

“‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ is a total fallacy,” Callaway said. “We don’t need to walk on eggshells when we speak, but we should be mindful of what we say.”

Callaway said the use of the words “rape,” “gay” and “whore” should be removed from casual conversation.

“Using the word ‘rape’ as in ‘Dude, I raped that test’ has become so normal that we don’t realize how harmful it is,”
Callaway said.

Callaway attributes the inclusion of offensive words in our everyday vernacular to the increasing heteronormativity of our society.

“It’s not because of an erosion of values, it’s a symptom of heteronormativity,” she said. “Words like ‘fag’ are common and harmful like the N-word used to be.”

Journalism freshman Kenny Chilton, who works for a dating abuse hotline, said even common words can initiate debilitating flashbacks.

“A woman called the hotline because someone said ‘You’re being really bitchy right now,” Chilton said. “Her abuser used to say that and it brought back memories.”

We cannot always know which words will offend or hurt other people, but we should be straightforward and ask others if we suspect we offended them, Chilton said.

Journalism freshman Shannon Price said we should be more aware of how the words around us affect our thoughts.

“Media makes society think the way we do,” Price said. “I think I’m relatively aware but I always need to be on guard.”

Monday’s event was a new spin on the Panty Line Project, a language awareness event that Voices Against Violence hosted in years past, Callaway said.

“A lot of people in Voices Against Violence who identify as LGBT made it known that [the Panty Line Project] was not gender inclusive,” she said. “We’re trying to be more gender inclusive with this event because people from all genders are victims of sexual assault.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Workshop educates on power of words