STANFORD, Cali. (WHNT) — Stanford University is doing a bit of backpedaling after backlash over a recently-released list of “harmful language” it aimed to remove from the school’s website and code.

In a December statement, the university’s CIO Council and People of Color in Technology affinity group announced an “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” (EHLI) which sought to eliminate any violent, racist or biased language.

“This website contains language that is offensive or harmful,” the school’s website said, adding, “please engage with this website at your own pace.”

Despite good intentions, the university was immediately criticized at the suggestion of removing words like “American,” “immigrant” and “grandfather.” Suggested alternatives were provided and even went into detail describing why certain terms “could be problematic in certain uses.”

More than 150 words and phrases were cited in the 13-page guide, organized into 10 categories of harmful language: ableist, ageism, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, and violent words and phrases. Words and phrases like “brave,” “seminal,” “take a shot at,” “no can do” and “submit” were also deemed harmful.

After the list was released and the backlash began, the IT community provided an update, saying:

We have particularly heard concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term “American.” We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is the use of the term “American” not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed. The intent of this particular entry on the EHLI website was to provide perspective on how the term may be imprecise in some specific uses, and to show that in some cases the alternate term “US citizen” may be more precise and appropriate. But, we clearly missed the mark in this presentation.

Steve Gallagher, Chief Information Officer, Stanford University

“Brave,” was deemed harmful for perpetuating stereotypes of the “noble courageous savage.” (Though the guide didn’t recommend a replacement for the word.)

Instead of “seminal,” readers were encouraged to use “leading” or “groundbreaking,” so as not to reinforce any “male-dominated” language.

Instead of “American,” the guide recommended “U.S. citizen,” to avoid insinuating that the U.S. dominates the Americas. The guide also recommended that “give it a go” take the place of “take a shot at” to avoid violent imagery.

“No can do,” per the guide, should be replaced by “I can’t do it,” since the first is said to have originated from stereotypes that mocked non-native English speakers. The guide recommended replacing “submit” with “process,” as the latter “can imply allowing others to have power over you.”

In January, the IT affinity group released another statement, saying the initiative was “catalyzed” by events at the national and campus level during 2020, adding that it was created “by and for” the IT community as a guide, not a mandate.

EHLI was created to address racist terms historically used in IT, such as “master” and “slave” to describe aspects of systems. The initiative’s scope of “racist terminology in technology” was later expanded more broadly as “harmful language in technology.” It was this expansion in scope that is at the heart of the intense recent feedback from the Stanford community and beyond.

Steve Gallagher, Chief Information Officer, Stanford University

A community letter sent out by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said that while he appreciated the good intentions of the initiative reiterated that “at no point did the website represent university policy” and affirmed that Stanford’s “efforts to advance inclusion must remain consistent with our commitment to academic freedom and free expression.”