Widgets Magazine


Letter to the Editor: On the content of Stanford Department of Public Safety alerts

To The Editor:

It is extremely annoying to be associated with a world-renowned center of learning and to be regularly bombarded with University bulletins that reveal extreme ignorance. The latest example is an Oct. 1 email from the Stanford Police concerning a robbery on Palm Drive near El Camino Real in which the suspect is described “as a Hispanic male…”

It is only correct to use the term Hispanic to describe people who share a linguistic and cultural heritage. It is not a term of race or ethnicity. Hence using the term Hispanic to describe someone’s appearance is meaningless since it can include anyone along the entire color spectrum of the human race.

It appears that many people in the United States, including the Stanford Police, still have a hang up recognizing that people can be of mixed ethnicities. The perfect example of this is the current inhabitant of the White House who is often described by the U.S. media as “African American” when he is as much Caucasian as anything else. Accordingly, the term Hispanic or Latino has crept into the popular lexicon as a descriptive term to describe someone of mixed European and indigenous American ancestry, an individual who in Latin America would be described as mestizo or in Canada as metis. This does not make the use of the term Hispanic for that purpose proper. More importantly, an educational institution such as Stanford University should not tolerate its incorrect usage.

Thomas Andrew O’Keefe
Lecturer, International Relations and School of Earth Sciences Departments

  • When the PD blasts all Stanford students, faculty, and staff to alert them to potential dangerous persons on campus, they are most interested in using terminology that the majority of its audience will understand, and are much less interested in using terminology that might cause confusion. I knew what they meant, and so did probably everybody who received the message.

    Merriam and Webster refute your rigid definition of “Hispanic.” The dictionary recognizes that “Hispanic” is, in a secondary meaning, “of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States; especially : one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin.”

    Words’ meanings change, whether we like it or not. “Caucasian” originally referred only to people from the Southern Caucasus region, but you clearly understand that its meaning has generalized over the years, since you employ it yourself.

    Joey from Friends would say: “Your point is moo.”

  • Laketimber75

    You seem to be missing the point of the original letter. What does “…a person of Latin American descent living in the United States; especially : one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin” look like?  For that matter, what does an “American” look like?

  • OK, point taken. Still, you/the author seem to be missing the point of a police department news blast. The PD’s obligation is to make itself understood so that it can foster the safety of the community, not to be technically correct in its terminology if that’s going to risk confusion. The PD’s word choice is more a reflection of its audience’s (mis?)understandings than of its own.

    Until the nation and Wikipedia change their minds about what “Hispanic” has evolved to mean and develops better terminology, I’m going to go on saying “Hispanic.” I think the PD should as well, for practical safety reasons. I’m going to go on saying “Caucasian,” too, but you shouldn’t if you’re going to be consistently indignant.

    I do appreciate the deeper frustration here, which isn’t so much about vocabulary as about the understandings of race in America.