Swearing on Campus, Maybe It’s Not Such a Bad Thing

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By Tessa Fraser –

When freshmen enter Rocky Mountain College for the first time, they are often caught off guard by the many differences between high school and college. These differences include making their own rules, setting their own bedtimes, and being accountable for going to their classes. One of the biggest differences they face is the fact that swearing is accepted in common conversation and teaching within the college setting.

When students are still in high school swearing and vulgarity were highly frowned upon, to the point where punishments, detention and loss of privileges to participate in school activities were associated with it. Punishment, however, doesn’t seem to be an effective way to deter students from swearing. A study by Timothy Jay, one of the leading scholars on cursing in the United States, estimated that swearing in high school students had risen by 80% the 1990’s. The question is then if students are already swearing, then why does the acceptance of swearing in college come as such a surprise to them? Perhaps it has everything to do with who is now doing the swearing. For many, this is the first time in their lives these students are hearing their professors swear openly in the classroom.

When asked about how she felt about hearing her professors swear in class, Annastacia Anderson, class of 2017, stated, “As a RMC student who drops the occasional f-bomb, I’ve never had an issue with hearing swear words from teachers and other faculty. I was also thoroughly desensitized by my senior year in high school.” Swearing within the college classroom serves many purposes, such as adding emphasis to a point or to catch people’s attention. When your college professor lectures and is impassioned about the topic, there’s no problem with a swear word creeping into the lecture because it has a defined purpose. Also, when something important is being talked about, swearing is used to catch the attention of the user and draw attention to what and why the topic is important.

When asked about how she felt about professors use of swearing in the classroom setting, Karen Beiser, Associate Professor of Business Administration and Economics, commented, “At the end of the day, one rule seems to apply – save it for when you need it. Some days, a good string of curse words is the only thing that can make your point.”

This is the real difference between swearing in high school and the acceptance of swearing in college; all swearing has a purpose. There is no longer swearing for the sheer fact of swearing. Most of it is done to move a discussion forward.

In an article titled “The Science of Swearing,” psychological researchers conducted a study exploring whether or not swearing was harmful or beneficial for people. One section stated that, “Instead of thinking swearing as uniformly harmful, more meaningful information about swearing can be obtained by asking what communication goals it achieves. Swear words can achieve a number of outcomes, when used positively for joking and fitting in with the crowd, or as a substitute for physical aggression.” By using this line of thinking, it puts swearing in the college setting within the realm of understanding for most college students. Given that it is within that realm, perhaps it becomes something that students may have an easier time accepting.

There is this idea in college that we are all adults, although that may not be fully true for all of us just yet. Given the college setting we are in, students are being held to a standard that allows swearing to be used, expects students to act accordingly, and to handle it gracefully.


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