Why Words Matter: Bobcat Student Orientation

As a journalism student majoring in Strategic Communication, I always knew words were important. Oh boy, did I know! I’ve considered the thesaurus to be one of my best friends since my freshman year of high school. Just kidding, that would be pathetic. How weird would I look if I started spilling all my secrets to an inanimate object?


So weird, but I digress…

If you have a thesaurus— let’s be real, an internet connection, your writing can go from drab to fab. More importantly, it can help to communicate a message in the most clear way possible. This is essential to the daily job of a public relations  professional.

Thesauruses and Google may both be extremely helpful when writing a press release, but what about giving numerous presentations each day as a Bobcat Student Orientation leader? Or, answering a variety of questions from new students and their parents? Or, directing individuals around a campus that is completely foreign to them?

The point is, talking off-the-cuff is hard. There is no backspace button and there’s no screen— only sentences strung together with a plethora of semi-uncomfortable filler words (think “so,” “like,” and “um”). There’s no time to perfect the phrasing of your message or hunt down the perfect word.

Words are always so important, especially in this critical time of a student’s life— college orientation.

To represent the brand of Ohio University, the BSO team has put in the efforts to watch the words they use around students, parents, faculty and staff.  Here are some common words that the BSO team tries to avoid— think of this as a style guide specifically for BSO.


“Kids” vs. “Students”

College students are adults, but for many students, BSO is the first time they are treated as such. It’s important to acknowledge them as “students” instead. Throughout the BSO experience a consistent emphasis is placed on how students will grow independently from their parents. This is shown by how the orientation leaders comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Students are given the opportunity to schedule classes on their own and BSO recognizes this independence by calling them students, not kids.

“Freshman” vs. “First years”

The word “freshman” is sooooo six years ago. Whenever I hear the F-word, I think of my first year of high school instead of my first year of college. Life as a student who is tackling their first year of college at OHIO is going to be vastly different from what they experienced during their freshman year of high school. It’s also g

oing to be vastly different than any movie about college circa early 2000s. The word “freshman” has a negative connotation, which is always a bad move in PR.


“Dorm” vs. “Residence Hall”

Like “freshman,” the word “dorms” has a negative connotation. What’s the difference between choosing a “dorm” versus a “residence hall?” A dorm is where you sleep; a residence hall is where you live. You won’t find orientation leaders describing any building on OHIO’s campus as a “dorm.”

“Guys” vs. “Everyone”

The phrasing I struggle with the most is referring to a group of people as “guys,” instead of simply switching my phrasing to a more inclusive way of addressing multiple people at one time— “everyone.” It’s as important to speak using inclusive language as it is to avoid words with negative connotations. In fact, it’s more important. If one refers to a residence hall as a “dorm,” it’s possible no student would pick up on it. To someone who doesn’t identify themselves as a “guy,” the phrase could become a source of misunderstanding.

“Disabled person” vs. “Person with a disability”

 This has been a focus in OHIO’s news ethics classes for years: person first language (PFL) put the person… you guessed it— first! It allows people to focus on the humanity of the person before mentioning the person’s disability. Although having a disability is a part of a person’s identity, it is not the whole picture. This is why using PFL as an orientation leader and PR professional is crucial to promoting inclusion.




Jess is a junior Journalism – Strategic Communication major and the Scripps PRSSA 2018-2019 VP of Social Affairs. You can connect with her on Twitter @JessicaLynn57

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