Dialogue on Inclusion: increasing sensitivity to gun-related language

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The UVU School of Arts Inclusion Committee hosted a Dialogue on Inclusion about gun-related language on Thursday, Jan. 25. 

Steven Rimke, assistant professor of voice and speech at Utah Valley University, led the discussion to encourage students to rethink how they speak. He focused the discussion on gun-related language that have become casual parts of people’s vocabulary.

“My initial goal with this workshop is not to finger wag or scold you … but just simply bring awareness to it,” Rimke said.

Rimke listens to audience comments and questions. The dialogue consisted of a lecture portion and a discussion portion. (Elizabeth Williams)

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, gun-related deaths have increased in the United States to record highs, according to Pew Research Center. More students have been exposed to gun violence and have sensitivities related to it, prompting the discussion.

“I could do better … I could really take care of what I’m saying to other people, just because we don’t really know what kind of backgrounds everyone comes from,” Makenna Ashby, a UVU musical theatre student from South Jordan, said.

Rather than proposing substitute language, Rimke showed a list of firearm-related words in the everyday vernacular to make his audience more aware of their language.

“My personal belief (is) that becoming aware of words is the first step one can take to bridge empathy and understanding,” Rimke said.

He added that he preferred for students to create their own substitutes because of their individual agency and creativity.

“All of you are wonderfully intellectual and far brighter than probably I will ever be … you probably have better examples,” Rimke added.

Jonathan Francis, a musical theatre major from Herriman, brought up the impact that culture, generation and backgrounds have on words, especially considering multiple languages.

Rimke also emphasized the importance of directionality with violent language, using the word “bullet points” as an example. The word “bullet” has a negative connotation, but the term isn’t pointed in a certain direction. Conversely, a phrase such as “they shot my idea down” feels more targeted and could be more easily replaced with a positive or neutral phrase.

“It’s very interesting to see a different light and lens, and helps you be more critical of the language that you do use. I really appreciated that,” Francis said.

Rimke also provided periodic check-ins for students to stop and breathe after discussing violent language. These built-in mental breaks encouraged students to internally assess their bodily response to violent language.

Awareness is just the first step, Rimke said. Action follows awareness to create a safer environment for all. Rimke invited students to think for themselves what their next step should be.

“What next steps do you feel we can do to make spaces more equitable and safer regarding the use of violent language?” he said.

Rimke chats with students in the audience after the event. Many students in attendance were part of the UVU Theatre Department. (Elizabeth Williams)

The goal of the discussion was to make students more aware of and empathetic to each other’s needs, specifically in regards to violent language. Rimke used an example of empathy from his time as a professor at Penn State. He said he had a student who had experienced a school shooting and the student let Rimke know on the first day that he couldn’t have his back to the door.

Rimke explained that he didn’t need to know why or judge, he just needed to be understanding and accommodating to his student. The student later revealed that he was a gun advocate for the U.S., inspiring Rimke to do more research on violent language’s effect on students regardless of their background.

“(As a teacher), it’s my job to make a space that allows you to feel safe, to the best of my ability,” Rimke said.

Ashby pointed out that her generation — Gen Z — is surrounded by the influence of TikTok and other social media which makes it easy to fall into the trap of common slang.

Elise Johns, an acting major from Mapleton, came to the conclusion that regardless of someone’s triggers, violent language still has a connotation attached to it.

“Even if this horrible, violent language doesn’t have this history for us, we still are impacted by the (negative) connotation of words we’re using,” she said.

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