In her May 21 column, Maggie Hammerle fervently expresses her criticisms of the “You Don’t Say?” campaign and strongly cautions against “hypersensitivity to words and phrases.” Rooted in her convictions of “gender norms,” “that homosexuality is wrong,” and being a “tranny” is “immoral,” Hammerle opines that the campaign’s message restricts her ability to express her beliefs. Long-standing research refutes Hammerle’s stereotypical claims about sexual and gender minorities and stresses the repercussions of offensive language. Furthermore, we feel as though she has misinterpreted the nuances of our campaign.

In creating the campaign, we very deliberately crafted each statement to begin with “I don’t say” as opposed to “You shouldn’t say” to address the well-formulated concern about limiting free speech. In turn, the campaign expresses opinions of models and speakers instead of prescribing overarching social norms for the Duke community. One is certainly entitled to believe that monitoring the words we use can hinder “healthy dialogue”. However, we contend that these words and phrases are exactly the opposite—unhealthy.

Hammerle is correct in asserting that these words operate on a two-way street. In many cases, we can do a better job of empowering minorities by disempowering words. That being said, not everybody has the privilege of being able to push away the offense carried by the words of others. To ascribe the responsibility of offensive language to minorities is analogous to understanding sexual assault as an issue brought about by women. It’s victim-blaming 101, and we will not stand for that.

In fact, LGBT youth are disproportionately susceptible to bullying by their peers. When it does not entail physical abuse, this bullying manifests itself in dehumanizing language. Each instance of bullying increases the victim’s likelihood of self-harm, including suicide, by 250 percent.

As a campus, we can do a better, more constructive job of validating the identities and values of our peers, rather than resorting to slurs. A slur is not dialogue. A slur is the silence of LGBT people around the world. Hammerle’s perspective belongs at Duke, and she is brave for sharing it publicly. Nevertheless, the language promoted by her column infringes on the security of Duke’s marginalized students. You can do your part in maintaining their security by thinking before you talk.

Daniel Kort, Christie Lawrence, Jay Sullivan, and Anuj Chhabra

Founders, “You Don’t Say?” Campaign