An Inclusive Litany

5/22/00

A group of students at the Albany campus of the State University of New York scheduled a picnic to honor Jackie Robinson, the Hall of Famer who broke baseball's color barrier. Another group of about 40 students protested the use of the word "picnic" to promote the event, insisting the word originally was a form of code that referred to planned lynchings of blacks (to "pick" a "nigger"). In fact, the word is of innocent 17th-century French origin, but no matter. The school's affirmative action director, Zaheer Mustafa, released a memo asking everyone to stop using the word, regardless of its origin. "Whether the claims are true or not, the point is the word offended." In subsequent publicity, the word picnic was changed to "outing." But this offended members of the school's gay and lesbian community. So as a result, the event was promoted without the use of a noun to describe what it was. "Every day we come up with a new word we can't use," commented student editor Richard Ryback.

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