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Inclusive Language Guidelines

The University of Cologne (UoC) is strongly committed to being a place of teaching, learning and working where diversity is considered an advantage and where a considerate culture of openly addressing issues, communicating and working together is promoted. In order to create a fair, appreciative and respectful atmosphere, the use of inclusive language at the UoC is very important. Our language can deliberately or unconsciously insult, intimidate, degrade, marginalize, intensify hurtful stereotypes and contribute to the unequal status of students and employees. And even if the person speaking often does not intend to use discriminatory language, the statement can still hurt the affected group of people.

Inclusive language, which respects and involves all people at the UoC, is free of sexist, racist and other discriminatory terms. But think of inclusive language as a process that is never completed. Language is constantly evolving just as much as research, politics and society. Consequently, there is no such thing as the one true way of expressing yourself in an inclusive manner that is applicable to all contexts. All professors, students and employees should become aware of the necessity to always self-critically examine their own choice of words and their meanings.

Of course, inclusive language is relevant within all contexts of a university. We communicate when writing, talking or with our body language all the time – and therefore conflicts can potentially arise anywhere. Contexts in which many people are addressed collectively are particularly important, e.g. direct communication within and outside the UoC (e.g. e-mails, public relations, marketing), job advertisements, referrals to committees etc.

Special cases: Teaching

At universities, the focus is particularly often on academic teaching when it comes to inclusive language. Course content (e.g. historical texts, definitions, illustrations, films or methodologies) can provoke criticism with regard to the language used, and must be contextualized accordingly, without reproducing discrimination again through the use of discriminatory terms. It is also about discussing discriminatory structures in each individual field of science. In addition, conflicts may arise in the context of teaching with regard to terms and addressing your audience, e.g. through asking students about their origin or through using only male references.

What can we do?

The use of inclusive language is not about censorship or enforcement of ‘political correctness’. It is rather a matter of constant and critical self-reflection on which stand to take in teaching, research and administration. It is a matter of using non-violent language and creating an environment of mutual respect for all members of the UoC.

Evolution of language

Language is dynamic; meaning of words and phrases can change over time. But the origin of a word is important for as long as the historical background still affects people’s lives today.
For example, there are some terms with (colonial) racist backgrounds, which are still often used without further reflection, including the N-word. In the course of the development of race theories in the 18th century, this term was integrated into the general German language. The racial theories justified anti-black racism. The image of an inferior human being, with corresponding biological and stereotypical characteristics, is thus forever linked to the N-word. The use of the word reinforces this notion of Black people even today, and at the same time it is highly insulting for people concerned. This is why the N-word is one of several terms that should no longer be used in a post-colonial society.
The term ‘Black’ is often used as a self-designation by people of African origin and of the African diaspora, Black people or people of colour. The capitalized ‘B’ is used on purpose in order to express a socio-political position.

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