Underground Scholars Initiative: UC Berkeley
Language Guide for Communicating About Those Involved in the Carceral System
Building the Prison to University Pipeline
Increasing attention is being given to the language people use when discussing individual or group identities and experiences. In large part, marginalized people must demand the respect to create and amplify language that they consider more humanizing than the negative narratives imposed on us by dominant society. The late Eddie Ellis, a wrongfully convicted member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, established the first academic think tank run by formerly incarcerated people: Center for NuLeadership in N.Y. Paroling in 1994 with multiple degrees, Ellis worked to advance the dialogue around those who have been system impacted. Twenty five years later and our collective struggle to be recognized for the fullness of who we are as people remains.
Language is not merely descriptive, it is creative. For too long we have borne the burden of having to recreate our humanity in the eyes of those who would have us permanently defined by a system that grew directly out of the the institution of American slavery, an institution that depended on the dehumanization of the people it enslaved. It is in this spirit that we, the formerly incarcerated and system-impacted academics who identify as the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) at the University of California, Berkeley, call on the media, students, and public to utilize the following terminology when discussing our population individually or collectively. This is not about euphemisms or glossing over people's actions, rather it is about reclaiming our identity as people first. It is important to note that this style guide is equally applicable when talking about similarly situated populations outside of the United States.
Thank you in advance for respecting us enough to treat us as humans.
Underground Scholars Initiative (USI)
Please contact [email protected] if you would like to learn more about this initiative.
Note About the Language Guide
Not all Criminal Justice Department faculty members agree with many of the questionable premises or much of the reasoning and conclusions presented by a “Language Guide for Communicating About Those Involved In The Carceral System.” It is true that where language is used imprecisely, or manipulated for policy purposes away from its commonly understood moorings (i.e. re-defined), systemic change may follow. See, e.g., G. Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1947).