Calling Out/In Disrespect

Respect. Disrespect. Violence

In the respect–disrespect–violence continuum, disrespect is a precursor to violence. At Princeton, we have a choice to tolerate disrespectful behavior or put a stop to it before it turns into violence like sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking.

In the absence of respect, people hurt other people emotionally and physically. Although disrespectful behavior can be directed at one person by another, it is rarely a "personal issue". Often there are systems in play that tolerate disrespect and discourage people from taking action to intervene. 

When disrespectful behavior goes unchecked, like a virus, it spreads to more and more of our community members and becomes a broader cultural issue.

Read more to learn about the many forms of disrespect and how to create respect.

What does disrespect look like?

  • Using words that degrade, demean, or objectify
  • Making statements that attack a person based on one or more social identity (e.g., race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, country of origin, ability)
  • Writing and endorsing offensive comments posted in social media
  • Turning away when someone is asking for or needs help
  • Deciding not to enforce policies meant to protect our community from harm
  • Operating in a way that consistently ignores a group of people or minimizes their collective experiences
  • Choosing to destroy another person's property

If someone does or says something that you think is disrespectful (even if you aren't 100% sure) it’s important to be open about your disapproval. If no one says anything, even if the majority disagree with what has been said or done, a message is sent that this kind of behavior is acceptable in the community.

“Calling In,” Not Just Calling Out

One way to show disapproval is to call out the disrespectful behavior - saying:

  • “That’s not ok.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  • “I don’t think that was funny.”

These are all good responses that make it clear you disagree with the disrespect and won’t allow it to continue. If a situation is escalating, calling out the behavior may be the only way to stop it before someone gets hurt. Often, though, the calling out intervention ends there; someone is disrespectful, you tell them so, and everyone leaves the situation disgruntled. While that’s better than saying nothing, it can also end the dialogue earlier than necessary. What’s more, interactions  like this can be especially hard to have with people we care about, like parents, friends, classmates, teammates, or colleagues. Instead of only calling people out, we can go a step further and call them in to a conversation.  

Tips for “Calling In”

“Calling in” is about recognizing disrespect, naming it as such, and starting an open discussion about how the behavior doesn’t align with your values or theirs. What makes a good calling-in conversation? Here are some simple tips:

  • Choose whether to engage. Ask yourself:
    • Do I want to be in community with them?
    • Do I value their relationship?
    • Do I believe they intended no harm?
  • Consider your values and find common ground.
  • Name the disrespectful behavior or action you observed.
  • Contextualize the disrespect as a misstep, out of sync with their character.
  • Withhold judgment and be patient.
  • Remember, it should be a conversation, not a lecture.

Calling in isn’t a replacement for calling out - it’s another strategy for responding to disrespect. By calling in, we can show people the impact of their words and actions, empowering them to make more informed choices. Calling in allows people to reflect, rethink, and grow from the conversation, rather than becoming defensive or shutting down. Once we’re on the same page, we can create new allies, expand our perspectives, and move together towards respect and inclusion.

If you are working to improve your calling out/in disrespect skills to support people who identify as gender diverse, check out this resource, as well as this one. If you prefer to do this work over social media, consider following trans identified people to uplift their voices and influence.

When you encounter disrespect, weigh your options; if you have the opportunity and the energy, try calling someone into the conversation.

Explore Further

Calling out/in disrespect is only one part of fostering respect; for more, check out Creating a Respectful Community.

Looking for a framework to ground your calling in/out disrespect interventions? Consider exploring this resource on allyship for anti-oppression.