As a high school senior preparing for college, I was optimistic about so many things. I couldn't wait to live in a new city, meet new people, and start the transition of becoming an actual adult with real responsibilities. I knew I would have a hard time leaving Manhattan, the only place I've ever called home, but I also figured that attending college in D.C. wouldn't be anywhere near as tough an adjustment as going to college in a more rural or suburban area would have been. I was under the impression that, although every major American city has its own quirks, the kinds of people living in these cities are generally very similar: unique, open minded, independent, socially conscious and socially liberal.
While most students here at GW do fit this mold, I have found inconsistency in the sense that as a collective student body, we are also the ones using degrading, offensive language in everyday conversations, perpetuating stereotypes that educated college students should be working to dissolve. Whether I'm talking to friends or overhearing a conversation nearby, I am always shocked to see how casually these words are dropped and the context in which they are used. Specifically, GW students are most guilty of throwing around the terms “retard", “faggot" and “slut" with negative intentions. I realize in certain cases it may be related to a positive movement to reclaim the word, but for the purposes of this article, I am speaking to the more common usage. It is so prevalent that even I am guilty of a few a slip ups from time to time, hearing it so frequently. This is not how it should be though, and by using such offensive, outdated terms we are part of the setback society faces in the fight for equality for all people.
Growing up in a generally progressive city and going to a public high school in the middle of Chelsea, a neighborhood historically known for it's large LGBT population, I am not use to such tolerance for this kind of language. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that the usage of these words is non-existent in NYC. However, I am saying that people seem much more aware of why these terms are problematic. Saying these terms in public almost always guarantees a disapproving look from someone in ear shot.
Even more so, in high schools like mine, there was always an overwhelming number of students, teachers and clubs advocating feminism, LGBT acceptance and just generally more sensitivity to certain labels or slang. Young people were constantly reminding their friends not to talk in such a demeaning manner. Many individuals actively worked to eliminate these words by educating people outside their immediate social crowd and creating, building and supporting campaigns and organizations addressing the issue.
I can't seem to fathom how high school students are so involved, while college and grad students in the Nation's Capitol are not calling each other out nearly as much as we should be. I am not writing this to explain why this kind of language is problematic and sets us back as a community (mostly because that is our job as educated students contributing to society to have learned at this point), nor am I writing this to request a surge in activism and campaigning. I am simply writing this as a reminder that it is important to check yourself when throwing around such serious words, and maybe even take it one step further and check your friends.