Two days ago I reported that the University of Southern California’s (USC’s) School of Social Work had highlighted the word “field” as a racist term, for it was used in the phrase “field hand”, referring to enslaved people forced to do agricultural labor. Below is part of the memorandum issued by the School’s “Practicum Education Department”:
This is about as arrant an example of changing language for no good reason that I can think of, for who would think of the phrase “my field is psychiatric social work” as racist? And if you use “practicum”, which isn’t even technically correct, nobody would understand what you meant.
As readers here also noted, the phrase “field” in the agricultural sense goes back centuries, and, further, “field” has many other uses that can’t in one’s wildest imagination be seen as racist—like “field work” for ecologists. This is an example of an action that did not need to be taken, but also an example of how crazy the language policing has become. Words are getting deemed racist so fast that a good ideologue can’t keep up with the changes.
The memorandum has also confused USC students, too, as this article from Wednesday’s USC student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, notes (click to read):
The paper notes that the word’s earliest usage antedates its use in American slavery:
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “field work” can be traced back to 1767 in uses meaning “gathering statistics or doing research out-of-doors or on-site.” Merriam-Webster’s website says the term’s first-known use was in 1686, to mean “a temporary fortification thrown up by an army in the field.”
But what’s doubly confusing is that the school administration walked back what the School of Social work declared:
Twitter pundits quickly seized on the announcement, decrying it as “woke” virtue signaling.
“The university does not maintain a list of banned or discouraged words,” wrote Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Graddy in a statement to the Daily Trojan Wednesday. We will continue to use words — including ‘field’ — that accurately encompass and describe our work and research.”
If that’s the case, then the School of Social Work is at odds with USC’s administration. When, then, is the word “field” to be seen as racist? I look forward to clarification from the Practicum Education Department.
What’s curious but predictable is that only a few students interviewed were willing to criticize the announcement about “field”. It looks like some were puzzled, but others thought that because “field” was declared racist, it must be racist.
Students — interviewed by the Daily Trojan on Tuesday both at random on the University Park Campus and specifically in the school of social work — seemed largely split on the school’s decision.
“I’ve never been in a conversation with another Black person that has had a problem with the word ‘field,’” said Leka Mpigi, a graduate student studying architecture. “But I don’t know if that’s because I’m of African descent; I’m not African American.”
Mpigi said she could see why the terms would be taken the way the memo characterized them, but suggested that USC might have “bigger problems” to focus on, specifically admitting more students of color.
“At this point, it looks like we’re fishing for something of relevance,” Mpigi said. “It feels like a stretch.”
Kudos to Mpigi for at least saying the obvious. She’s clearly savvier than the factotums in the School of Social Work.
Here’s a student bowing to authority and dissing free speech as well:
Paloma Williams, a junior majoring in design, said that if the phrases being replaced originated from slavery or have an offensive origin, she supports the decision.
“Free speech doesn’t make saying offensive things OK,” Williams said.
That last statement is wrong if by “OK” she meant “legal.” Notice the revival of the old critique of free speech: it should be curbed when that free speech is deemed offensive.
Three other students who will go along to get along:
“I have no issue with [the change],” said Maya Borenstein, a graduate student studying social work. “The title of my courses doesn’t really affect me. I’m all for changing language if it’s what they think is correct.”
Borenstein said she doesn’t feel like the change is limiting her own speech. David Lerman, another graduate student studying social work, said he thinks it isn’t his place to judge whether a term is harmful or offensive because he’s white.
“Coming from a background where I had family members that grew up working fields, I don’t think that they themselves would find it particularly offensive,” said Rylan Jimenez, a freshman majoring in engineering. “It just seems a little ridiculous to me.”
Jimenez said he can’t speak for people whose families have been through slavery.
“I feel like I can see both sides of the argument,” said Rozheen Barekatein, a graduate student studying social work. “But at the same time, why are we calling it a ‘master’s program?’”
Barekatein sees the hypocrisy of expunging some words but not others. (After all “master” has been thoroughly demonized, as in the removal of the term “master bedroom” from real estate descriptions.)
But clearly the students aren’t as willing to take as hard a line against the term’s elimination as did readers here. That could be for three reasons:
a. The students are more woke than our readers and willing to accept changes in words deemed offensive.
b. The students are, as the paper notes in its headline, somewhat confused, and so are ambiguous in their thoughts and responses.
c. Many of the students think it’s dumb to eliminate the word “field,” but are too intimidated to say so.
I think the answer involves all three factors, but I hope that a.) is a minor one. But make no mistake about it. The School of Social Work may USE the word “practicum”, but I strongly doubt that it will catch on.