UMD tells students to use 'undocumented citizen' not 'illegal alien'

A poster displayed on the University of Maryland’s campus encourages students to stop using the term “illegal aliens” and instead use the perplexing formulation “undocumented citizen.”

The entire poster, photographs of which were obtained by Campus Reform, is intended to show students that “words have power” by demonstrating how several common phrases and expressions can be potentially hurtful to certain individuals.

“Would you say [illegal aliens] if you knew I am an undocumented citizen?” the poster asks.

As one self-identified student of the university pointed out on Reddit, however, there is just “one small problem” with that supposition, namely, that “an undocumented immigrant by definition is NOT a citizen.”

Among the other scenarios presented are saying “he looks like a terrorist” to someone who is “a United States veteran;” using the phrase “that’s so ghetto” around someone who “grew up in poverty;” and commenting that an “exam just raped me” in the presence of “a survivor of sexual assault.”

Below the examples, there is a short description of the concept that the poster is attempting to communicate.

“The words you use may have an impact on others,” the passage begins. “Consider the power of your words as you choose what to say, and consider different ways that you can communicate the same message.”

It then advises anyone who feels offended by someone else’s language to “engage them in a discussion” and “ask them what they really meant by what they said,” asserting that “together, [by] sharing each other’s stories, we can help others see the power of their words.”

The poster is a creation of the “ Inclusive Language Campaign” run by the Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office at the University of Maryland, which describes itself as “a student-driven initiative launched in 2012 by Resident Life and MICA with the goal of educating and creating conversations around language and inclusion on campus.”

Nicole Mehta, Program Director of the Common Ground Multicultural Dialogue Program, told Campus Reform that the use of the term “undocumented citizen” was intentional, and was determined by students through surveys and focus groups.

“The overall purpose of the Inclusive Language Campaign is to get individuals to stop and think about the language we use and how language can impact others and our communities,” she explained. “The use of ‘undocumented citizen’ (along with other terms such as undocumented individuals, immigrants, etc.) seeks to avoid dehumanization of an entire group of individuals.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete