I'm writing in response to the many harsh things I have heard said against political correctness, a phrase I believe has been abused for too long on college campuses. Let me begin by addressing the concerns I have heard against the use of political correct terminology. One concern is that political correctness makes everything unnecessarily confusing and, as a result, it's hard to figure out what to say. A second concern I often hear is that it is not honest to make someone say something they don't really feel like saying. A third, which is closely related, has to do with the fact that political correctness violates or inhibits our freedom of speech. A fourth is the idea that it is not necessary to use politically correct terms because they don't change the meaning the speaker is trying to convey.
Now that I have touched upon some of the issues concerning political correctness, let me address the heart of the problem: how to define it. What do we mean by political correctness? I hope this is not a surprise to anyone, but what is termed "political correctness" is really just human respect.
I must admit that I don't agree with the term "politically correct." It's misleading because it's not only "political." That word conjures up the image of some politician who is just saying things to win votes. That is not what political correctness is supposed to be.
Political correctness was created to address the issues of derogatory speech. When someone calls someone else a nigger, a jap, or any other degrading term, it is offensive and disrespectful. Such hateful terms stem from misunderstanding, ignorance and negative attitudes toward another person based on a certain prejudices. But, hopefully, when we can understand and respect one another it will come out in both our speech and our politics.
In reference to the issues raised against political correctness, I have one philosophy to share: be polite and respectful to other people and their differences and describe political correctness as moral correctness or mutual respect. A person can only be honest with themselves and try the best they can. If that person is confused over what terminology to use, he or she should ask the person he or she is trying to describe. No one will get offended if asked how to be addressed by someone who is honestly confused about what words to use.
The choice between saying "freshman" or "first-year" is a personal choice based on the issues behind each word. No one is forcing anyone to be anything they are not. It's best to use good judgment and not allow the phrase "politically correct" to become misleading. There is still a debate on what words are necessary and which aren't, and everyone should take an active part in deciding for themselves. The issue is not which terms are politically correct. Rather, it is how we respect and address one another.