University removes ‘Harmful Language’ list following backlash

Jan. 8, 2023, 11:11 p.m.

Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) website was taken down Wednesday after what the University described as “intense recent feedback” that the list was “counter to inclusivity,” according to a public statement from Chief Information Officer Steve Gallagher. 

An effort co-sponsored by the Stanford CIO Council and the People of Color in Technology (POC-IT) affinity group, the EHLI was published in May with the intent of identifying and suggesting alternatives to discriminatory terms used in IT. According to the guide, the suggestions were in line with those used by “peer institutions and within the technology community” and did not represent University policy, mandates or requirements.

The list was met with widespread backlash in December, with criticism kicking into high gear after The Wall Street Journal published an article signed by its editorial board ridiculing entries in the list such as “American,” “master” and “blind study.”

The website was hidden from public view on Dec. 19; however, a PDF of the index was uploaded to the Wall Street Journal website.

Several news outlets and publications joined the WSJ in condemning the initiative. Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro called the guide “ridiculous” and an example of “leftist absurdity.” 

USA Today columnist Ingrid Jacques wrote that the index demonstrates how “political correctness gone wild” and that “their list will only serve to chill speech and free and open discussions.”

“This has gone too far, to say the least! @Stanford, what is your explanation for this madness?” wrote SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Twitter in response to the list.

Amid media backlash, Gallagher released a statement on Dec. 20 clarifying that the website does not represent university policy and was intended for discussion within the IT community at Stanford and why certain terms “could be problematic in certain uses.”

The concerns around the guide’s treatment of the term “American” were also addressed in this communication, where Gallagher wrote that the alternate term “US citizen” may be “more precise and appropriate” under certain contexts, however, the intent “clearly missed the mark in this presentation.”

Gallagher wrote in his Wednesday statement that the “path forward will be determined after reviewing all recent feedback and consulting with university academic and administrative leadership.”

Mark Allen Cu '26 is a news writer for science and technology at The Daily. Contact him at mallencu 'at' stanford.edu

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