Thursday, February 18, 2010

Words Matter

Recently, a colleague send an e-mail to all department members after he saw an article in the local paper describing a scientific success of one of our graduates. Another colleague replied to all of us with, “Our boys are really doing it!”

I've thought a lot about this response over the past couple of days and even discussed it with my husband. It’s not the first time (or even the first time this week) that I’ve had to play the role of the Word Police. My concern was about inclusive language, or in this case, the lack thereof. This is so very important.

I'm sure that my colleague didn't mean to imply that only 'boys' graduate with physics degrees, or that only our 'boy graduates' are doing well. But that is exactly how it sounded.

As the senior woman in the physics department as well as the chair of CSWA, I politely pointed out to my colleague that women and girls need to be included in every aspect of physics, from search committees to invited speakers lists. This also means that even in a casual e-conversation, like a reply to a department announcement, we need to be aware that our colleagues are not just men, and that our students are not just boys.

I asked him as a colleague to be aware of language, and to include everyone.

He took it rather well.