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ESCHLEMAN: We need to be more conscious of our language

Column: Shower Thoughts

Language must be used cautiously to avoid exacerbating problems. – Photo by Ditto Bowo / Unsplash

As soon as I heard Katie Meyer, captain of the Stanford women’s soccer team, died by suicide, I wanted to know more about what events contributed to this tragedy. Katie Meyer was clearly bright, talented and heartbreakingly young.

Upon more research, an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education details how a pending disciplinary action filed by Stanford could have triggered damaging anxiety in Meyer.

In addition to balancing the schedule of a student-athlete, Meyer had been receiving letters from the university for a few months over an incident in which she was reportedly “defending a teammate,” and she had received a final letter stating that there would be a trial over the incident, according to Meyer’s parents in an interview with Today

Stanford is not able to disclose any information on student disciplinary matters, and one cannot ultimately know what contributed to Meyer’s death, but the article raises the question of how disciplinary actions against students should be handled. Erin Hungerman, the assistant dean of students at Youngstown State University, describes how steps can be taken to make the student disciplinary process less daunting.

Hungerman says that “students should understand that there is a future after a student-conduct process, regardless of what happens.” Students need to understand this fact so that they do not feel as if their academic reputation is completely tarnished or as if their professional aspirations are completely ruined. 

Brett A. Sokolow, a risk management and consultant and the president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, says that he hopes Meyer’s death will cause people to reflect upon “the language we use in letters, the way that we try to show someone the support they need in a time of crisis … for all parties, not just the person filing the complaint.” 

There have been calls to make the disciplinary process more educational rather than punishing and to balance support with accountability. There may likely be a reason behind why a student breaks a rule, and it is important to try to decipher the root cause of the problem with the intention of promoting the greater good, not with the intention of punishing someone for the sake of punishing. 

I cannot help but think about other events in which people’s words have had devastating implications. The two-part HBO documentary, "I Love You, Now Die," details the court case of The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter, in which Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of 18-year-old Conrad Roy after investigators found texts in which Carter, who was 17 years old at the time, had encouraged Roy to commit suicide.

Roy and Carter were in a romantic relationship that largely manifested itself online. They met only a handful of times in person but exchanged texts for more than two years.

Roy had expressed to Carter that he was experiencing suicidal thoughts, and in response to this, Carter encouraged Roy to take his own life, leading him to ultimately fill his car with carbon monoxide. At one point, Roy had left the car and told Carter he was hesitant to follow through, and she encouraged him to do so.

One may argue, or wholeheartedly believe, that Roy is accountable for his own actions and his actions only.

But I cannot help but consider the impact of Carter’s words. And more than that, I cannot help but encourage every person to recognize that what we say and how we say things matters as we inevitably have an impact on those around us. And this fact should especially dictate how those with significant platforms and those with positions of power conduct themselves. 

Recall former President Donald J. Trump’s words on Jan. 6, 2021. People may be quick to point out that every person that raided the Capitol that day did so of their own accord. But, what if we removed Trump from the equation or changed what he said?

Instead of telling an enraged crowd, “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide” and “we’re going to the Capitol, and we’re going to try and give,” what if Trump said, “We lost fair and square and that is sad, but we should go home peacefully?”

Obviously, nothing excuses the people who raided the Capitol, but one cannot help but notice Trump’s impact and what he could have prevented as the nation’s prior commander in chief.

Did he even reflect upon the potential implications of his words? Some may say he is not obligated to think about his effect on others, but I would argue that as a person who held a position of power and still influences millions of people, he has a responsibility to think about the consequences of his words. 

The key is to think about how saying something could make another person feel, what it could cause them to believe or encourage them to do. The key is taking the extra time to practice empathy and to understand how many lives could be saved by empathy.

Sara Eschleman is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and minoring in English. Her column, "Shower Thoughts," runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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