July 22, 2019

Dear CSU Campus Community,

Three weeks ago, I arrived on campus to your warm welcome. At that time, I sent you a brief note to thank you. I am reaching out now to provide context and clarity regarding recent media mischaracterization of a language guide requested by CSU faculty and staff. This guide recommends inclusive language usage; none of its recommendations are required.

Information about work on the guide was reported by the Collegian in October 2018, at which time the student newspaper published a preliminary version. That draft version of the guide included a suggestion to consider using “U.S. citizen” in place of “American” in reference to citizens from the United States. This suggestion was ultimately deleted – many months ago – and is not in the current guide available to faculty and staff today. Nonetheless, some media republished the draft document last week and claimed it was proof that CSU is unpatriotic and restricts free speech, even falsely asserting that the word “American” had been banned from campus.

These characterizations of CSU could not be further from the truth. Chancellor Frank has already said it powerfully in his public response: “We consider the First Amendment the foundation of any great American public university.”

As your President, I assure you: I unequivocally share this belief.  We do not place prohibitions on language on our campus.

What we do at CSU is engage in rigorous critical thinking, and critical thinking teaches us that our words matter. I applaud all who seek to select their words thoughtfully, whether to explain a complex scientific process or address our diverse, inclusive community. This commitment to communicate our ideas with one another and with the world defines us as an institution of higher education with the highest standards.

Finally, I believe it is important to note that many organizations whose professional staff engage with diverse populations have developed inclusive language guides for their staff. The Associated Press Stylebook has been including inclusive language principles for several years, and the American Medical Association offers similar guidance in their published Manual of Style for those in medical and scientific publishing. Another example is the U.S. Government Agency 18F, which is housed in the General Services Administration and defines its role as partnering “with agencies to improve the user experience of government.” 18F has its own inclusive language guide, which addresses nationality, gender identities and race, among other topics.

It is unfortunate that a draft version of our inclusive language guide was mischaracterized by some media outlets through either shallow reporting or intentional misrepresentation of the document and its stated purpose. As other media outlets reported, after conducting best-practice fact-checking, the guide is simply intended to be useful information for internal communicators on campus to consider, and it is absolutely consistent with our commitment to the free exchange of ideas in service of an excellent education for our students.

Wishing you all a wonderful rest of your summer,


Joyce McConnell