A student campaign to raise awareness about the misuse of language related to the LGBTQ community and gender issues—titled “You Don’t Say”—launched earlier this week. A collaboration between LGBTQ student group Blue Devils United and student-led speech awareness campaign Think Before You Talk, the “You Don’t Say” posters feature words and phrases that are sexist or homophobic along with justification for choosing alternatives. Led by sophomores Daniel Kort, Christie Lawrence and Anuj Chhabra, the campaign includes both physical flyers and a social media presence. The Chronicle’s Emma Baccellieri spoke to Kort and Chhabra about the campaign.
The Chronicle: What was the inspiration for the project?
Daniel Kort: Traditionally, language-use campaigns about LGBTQ identity have focused on rather simplistic issues, such as, “We don’t say fag” or “We don’t say dyke,” things like that. But our approach to this campaign was to take these language-use campaigns to the next level, so that they would focus on more sophisticated language usage and to highlight things that we might not normally expect to alienate LGBTQ individuals but in reality can do a lot of damage.
TC: Can you describe the process of getting the campaign off the ground?
DK: We collaborated with Think Before You Talk on this project after Anuj Chhabra reached out to Blue Devils United at the end of last Spring in hopes of initiating some sort of photo campaign related to language use towards LGTBQ individuals. In the Fall, we made it a priority.... We began brainstorming ideas of words and phrases that are alienating to LGBTQ individuals, specifically relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. We wanted to have this idea where we listed a word, and following that word, we’d have some sort of explanation as to why people might be interested in refraining from using that word.... We wanted to not just say that it’s not okay to use these words, but also to provide some form of justification. We also didn’t want it to come off as, “People shouldn’t say this,” but instead to profile people saying, “In my personal endeavors, I don’t say this.” There’s a lot of power in “I” statements or “we” statements. We don’t want to put words in people’s mouths, and we certainly didn’t want our actions to be taken as indicative of the entire LBGTQ community or feminist community.
TC: How has the response been so far?
DK: We’ve received overwhelming support since the launch of the Facebook page on Monday.... We’ve heard from students and alumni both in person and on Facebook. One of the most exciting things that we’ve heard was from Howard Menaker, a 1974 alumnus—he wrote on the Facebook page saying, “Thank you for this campaign, it makes this alum very proud.” It was really nice to hear that the older generation that keeps in touch with what’s been going on at Duke has been impressed with our work and we’re really happy that we were able to extend our impact.
TC: What made you decide to approach Blue Devils United with this idea?
Anuj Chhabra: We started Think Before You Talk last Fall in my FOCUS class and it started as just a class project. One of the first things we actually did was collaborate with Blue Devils United for a dialogue...so our collaboration with BDU really started back in October 2012. And then after that, we really thought a good dialogue had been started.
TC: How have you felt about the response so far?
AC: We just put it up Monday morning—the Facebook page and the pictures and everything—and now we have over 500 likes.... I’m just really happy at what’s happened in the past two and a half days. We have all these flyers that we’ve put up this week. We were really lucky to have a lot of money from SOFC to put up bus ads, flyers on the temporary walls by West Union. We were lucky to have so much printed coverage.... We’re happy to hear what people are saying about it. I’ve only heard positive feedback. People are challenging why they say things—but I’d also be interested in hearing some negative feedback, because what we want to do here is create discussion.