Tuesday, January 25, 2005

55 Pages of Style

University editorial style, that is.

Working for a start-up research university, I see a lot of firsts. My wonderful husband is the first student admitted to UC Merced. We are the first UC campus pursuing a designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. We're finishing the hiring of the first 60 professors and getting ready to admit the first 1000 undergrads for this fall. In short, it's awe-inspiring to be here at the start of what will surely become a great institution. I say that without irony--everybody is working so hard and feeling so aware of the desperate need for a serious institution of higher education in this area. We are truly a campus with an unprecedented mission.

For the last several months I've been working on a first that's a bit tedious but still cool, if only for the sheer power of it. The University Style Guide. I'm the author of the first edition! I know ... only a true editorial nerd would find this cool. But think about this: Faculty, staff and students for the next several years will be using my document (55 pages, first draft completed today) to guide their communications. I have a say in how we speak about powerful entities and people, how we refer to the near-sacred mechanisms of higher education, and most interesting of all, how we speak about sensitive issues like disabilities, race, sexual preference ... even reproduction and adoption.

I wonder if we are going to be the only university with an adoption section in its style guide? Cool. See what a power trip it is, being an editor at a time like this? Seriously, it is awesome to have a chance to voice some beliefs that are important to me because of my family situation as a transracial-adoptive mom. It's great to be able to lay down some thoughts about speaking and writing in a sensitive way, and have some confidence that those thoughts will be read and considered, maybe even adhered to, by a community of people in the future. (I wonder if this is a little taste of what it feels like to write scripture?)

I'm aware of the problems with becoming the word police. Especially in the "Sensitivities" section, I've tried to state these as the main rules:

Don't bring up information that's not relevant to your discussion (like mentioning a person's sex or race when it's not important to their job).

Ask the people you're writing about how they prefer to be referred to.

It's been interesting for me to write some things I'm not sure I agree with 100%. One suggestion is not to refer to "the gay lifestyle, because there is no one gay lifestyle." I believe there is a difference between gay and lesbian people who are sexually active with members of the same sex, and gay and lesbian people who by their own choice are not. And I believe that's a lifestyle difference, in fact I think it's the lifestyle difference I think most social conservatives are referring to when they say "gay lifestyle."

But that definition isn't accepted by most gay and lesbian people or by social liberals. And as a general principle I do believe in people's right to define the language used to speak about them. So that suggestion stands in my style guide. I want respect for my self-definition and my definition for my family. So of course I have to give it to others.

I have a meeting with some colleagues tomorrow to discuss my draft. I know it won't really end up as UC Merced Style According to Ana. It shouldn't. Just let me bask in the power trip while I can.


Jamie said...

Very very cool Ana!!! What an awesome job you have! I can understand how you feel about being able to shape and mold the beginnings of an institution through writting. But on a much much much smaller level of course. I wrote the first parent and staff handbook at our parent co-op in Seattle. When I go on the website I grin with pride knowing my heart and souls passions (and knowledge of course) are still being implemented today because of that document :)

It IS great that a university is going to be in that particular location. My fil lives part time in Merced and my husband spend his teen years up there helping him on his almond orchard. He almost moved up there after high school but at the time there were no college options for my dh that did not involve lots of driving time.

What a much needed boon to the economy the University will be as well!!! The city I live in right now relies heavily on the Air Force for it's economy just like Merced used to.....glad the city is finally getting back on its feet.

(you must cringe while reading my writing, lol, my spelling errors and the way I write like I talk.....how do you stand it????)

Ana said...

Jamie, actually, I cannot remember ever cringing at your writing. I think you communicate very well which is one reason I wanted you on this blog. There's nothing wrong with writing to mirror your speech, especially in informal contexts like blogs and boards. :o)