MSU suggests employees avoid saying 'I apologize,' 'no problem,' 'sir,' 'ma'am'

  • A mandatory training session for MSU student employees suggested not using the phrases "I apologize," "no problem," "sir," and "ma"am."
  • The training labeled these words as "triggers" while suggesting "calmers" to replace them.

Michigan State University informed student employees to refrain from using terms like "I apologize" and "no problem" and addressing customers with gender-specific “sir or ma’am,” in a mandatory August training.

MSU Service Center employees witnessed an hour-long “Inclusive & Culturally Sensitive Service to Residents & Guests” presentation during their mandatory fall training, covering everything from identity wheels and utilizing pronouns to misgendering.

"If I’m saying ‘no problem,’ that’s leading a customer to believe that they could be a problem..."   

MSU Facilities Manager Sheena Ballbach claimed during her presentation that saying “no problem” could be a trigger.

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever said ‘no problem,’” Ballbach told the employees. “Did you ever think that was a trigger? I say this all the time and never thought that this could be a trigger word. But if I’m saying ‘no problem,’ that’s leading a customer to believe that they could be a problem or they could be an inconvenience to you and we’re just assuring them that they’re not.”

“I don’t know” and “you should have done this” were also examples of triggers. Ballbach displayed a list of triggers, paired with “calmers,” or statements MSU employees should say instead.

[RELATED: Harvard study: 'No evidence' trigger warnings help, may actually hurt trauma survivors]

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Another trigger in the workplace is misgendering customers, according to Ballbach. She then asked students, “‘how many of you were ever raised to say ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes ma’am?’” A fair number of hands went up and she admitted she was also raised that way.

“Not everybody identifies like ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am,’” the facilities manager informed employees.

“I would like to start seeing a culture around MSU where we say… “they”, not “his” or “hers.”’ In addition, asking for a customer’s name is appropriate according to a presentation slide. 

Eduardo Olivo, assistant director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at MSU, also stressed not misgendering people.

“We live in a [sex and gender] binary world...we all know that’s just a social construction,” he stated. Olivo had begun the diversity discussion with an identity wheel. The circle diagram is divided into parts of one’s identity such as “age," "first language," and "sexual orientation.” 

This wheel signifies how people identify and their memberships to social groups.

According to Olivo, bias incidents have spiked in the past two years based on data from the MSU Residence Housing Association (RHA).

RHA is the student government of students who are housed within campus dormitories. Its microaggression campaign states “college campuses serve many purposes, including the creation and maintenance of multicultural and brave spaces for action and dialogue around social justice.” In addition, RHA spent $6,000 on a “Love and Unity Banquet” months ago.

[RELATED: MUS student gov awards itself and friends TV, GoPro, AirPods]

 Olivo tied this data to the notion that “students on our campus from minoritized communities are feeling...powerless, not heard, not included, and victims of oppression systems.” 

The MSU presentation also included slides depicting a black student holding a sign reading “why is my skin color considered a threat?” a Muslim student grasping a sign claiming “I can cover my body & still be a feminist,” and a female student bearing a sign saying “select your gender,” followed by “male” and “female” options and, further down, “why is my gender not an option?”



[RELATED: Michigan State student gov: Let non-citizens vote]

MSU political science senior James Stosio, who has previously attended the diversity segment, told Campus Reform that he “usually feel[s] a little uncomfortable with all of it honestly, but… I do think it is valuable.”

Campus Reform reached out to both administrators and other students but did not receive any more comments in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter:  @SergeiKelley



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Sergei Kelley
Sergei Kelley | Michigan Senior Campus Correspondent

Sergei Kelley is a Michigan Senior Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform. A junior at Michigan State University, he studies Fisheries and Wildlife and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. He serves as the Vice Chair of the College Republicans and as Executive Editor to the University's only conservative publication The Morning Watch. He is a representative in the student government; Associated Students of Michigan State University. 

20 Articles by Sergei Kelley