A Washington State University professor will penalize students for using 'illegal alien'

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

According to a report from Campus Reform, one Washington State University professor said she will dock points from students who use the terms “illegal alien” or "illegals" in written assignments.

Rebecca Fowler is a member of the critical culture, gender & race studies department at WSU, where she is also a PhD candidate in American Studies.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

According to the course syllabus for her fall 2015 Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies, the phrases are unacceptable for use in her classroom. Per the syllabus:

Not “illegal alien” or “illegals” but “undocumented” migrants/immigrants/persons. Note that the Associated Press (AP) has determined not to use it:  ‘The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term “illegal immigrant” or the use of  “illegal” to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe  only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.'

She told Campus Reform that "the term ‘illegal alien’ has permeated dominant discourses that circulate in the news to the extent that our society has come to associate ALL unauthorized border crossings with those immigrants originating from countries south of our border."

The phrases are not the only ones Fowler tells her students to avoid—also on the list are "colored" and "the white man," (opt instead, she writes, for "white society," "white men," or "white males.") Students who use these phrase in written assignments will lose one grade point per use.


As the syllabus points out, "illegal alien' has, thankfully, fallen out of use—though when we built a bot that points this out to people on Twitter, we saw firsthand how strongly people react to being asked not to use it.

And Fowler is already getting some flack from conservative sites (including Campus Reform), who point to this as an example of political correctness gone awry. She's received one poor review on Rate My Professors for being an "obvious left wing ideologue."


Fowler is not alone in trying to remove "illegal alien" from the vocabulary of college students. Back in 2013, UCLA's "Drop the I-Word Campaign" led to a vote by the student government to ban use of the term on campus. According to the resolution, "use of the term illegals (the “I-word”) and its derivatives when referring to people dehumanizes and divides communities, contributing to punitive and discriminatory actions aimed primarily at immigrants and communities of color." Two months later, UC Berkeley followed suit.

Keep fighting the good fight, Fowler.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter