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‘Think Before You Talk’ Gets Duke Students to Do Just That

New student org. targets use of hurtful language

"That's so gay." "That's retarded." "I just got raped by that test."

These phrases have become part of the common language to some of us. We just take it for granted, forgetting the implications these words really have.

Some Duke students are doing something about it. The "Think Before You Talk" student organization is gaining a presence on campus, raising awareness and encouraging dialogue about the language we use and its effects on those around us.

In October 2012, sophomore Anuj Chhabra and some fellow students began the conversation, talking to first-years and explaining the implications of using such words. They collected over several hundred signatures from first-years pledging to be more conscious about the words they use.

"Quite frankly, for the first time I realized the language I was using on a daily basis was dehumanizing and offending those around me," said Chhabra, attributing his arrival at Duke to exposing him to new perspectives.

Think Before You Talk (TBYT) has now become a full-fledged effort - a Duke Student Government-recognized organization with eight executive board members. It has partnered with organizations such as the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Duke Women's Center, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD), Blue Devil's United, and The Center for Race Relations (Common Ground). The organization's mission centers on advocating for ending the derogatory usage of language that marginalizes women, people all across the gender and sexual spectrum, and people of different races.

"Think Before You Talk is a wonderful example of a student-lead initiative to engage everyone to be active bystander interveners," said Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta. "While difficult to measure, the frequency with which I hear students talk about this suggests to me great adoption by our students...and that makes me very proud."

Think Before You Talk

TBYT held its official launch the week of Feb. 9-15, which included a bridge painting and a dialogue with first-year students about their Duke experience and how their expectations matched up with reality.

TBYT also has teamed up with Blue Devils United, an LGBTQ student group at Duke, on a "You Don't Say" campaign. The campaign aims to reevaluate and spread awareness about certain commonly used phrases and their impact.

"TBYT and YDS are important to campus because we need to have these discussions about the importance of language and social issues on campus," said  Jay Sullivan, a member of the TBYT executive board. "What we say is a reflection of our beliefs and values and it is important to examine those things."

Sullivan and Chhabra both think the effort is paying off.

"I've had fantastic conversations with friends thanks to this work about these issues," said Sullivan. "I think it has been effective at facilitating such discussions."

"Language is a reflection of how we think about others and view the world," Sullivan added. "My goal is to make a difference in this community through TBYT and help facilitate discussion about how language affects many social issues, from race to gender and sexuality."