Universities urge students to use gender-neutral pronouns

Peter Fricke
Managing Editor

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  • American University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville have encouraged students to use gender-neutral pronouns.
  • UT has a gender-neutral pronoun primer on its website, including information on the pronouns
  • Incoming freshmen at several universities are being instructed on the use of gender-neutral pronouns, lest they inadvertently use offensive terms like “he” or “she.”

    At American University, students participating in freshman orientation were told to introduce themselves by giving their name, hometown, and preferred gender pronoun, according to Young Americans for Freedom.

    "We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance."   

    “When we broke out into small groups on the quad, the orientation leader introduced himself by stating his name, where he is from, and his pronouns even though he was obviously a male,” said AU freshman Tristan Justice, who is involved in YAF. “He then asked the group to do the same when introducing themselves.”

    When Justice questioned the directive, he says he was told that, “Here at AU, we don’t like to make assumptions about people’s gender.”

    According to Justice, not only were students asked to write their preferred pronouns on the cover page of their orientation binders, they were also warned against using phrases such as “I have black/Asian friends” on the grounds that such statements might be considered offensive.

    “I actually found myself more offended by having to say my pronouns, rather than allowing someone to naturally assume that I am obviously a male,” Justice said.

    AU is not the only school to put pressure on students to adopt the burgeoning new language of gender-neutral pronouns. Fox News reports that the University of Tennessee—Knoxville maintains a primer on its website instructing students in the appropriate use of over a dozen such pronouns.

    The primer, which is posted on the website of UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, reads like something out of a science fiction novel, with z’s and x’s taking a prominent role, as Pride Center director Donna Braquet seems to acknowledge in her accompanying explanation of the document.

    “These may sound a little funny at first, but only because they are new,” she writes, arguing that “she” and “he” would also sound strange “if we had been taught ze [one of the gender-neutral pronouns] growing up.”

    Braquet asserts that there are dozens of gender-neutral pronouns, but focuses her attention on some of the most common ones: they, them, and their (used as singular); along with ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem, and xyr.

    “We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems,” she says before going on to suggest ways that students and professors can demonstrate gender sensitivity.

    “In the first weeks of classes, instead of calling roll, ask everyone to provide their name and pronouns,” Braquet advises instructors. “This ensures you are not singling out transgender or non-binary students.”

    Outside of the classroom, she recommends that clubs and other organizations use the same practices at their meetings, even to the point of including pronouns alongside names at events where nametags are used.

    And on a more personal level, she encourages individuals to use the greeting, “Oh, nice to meet you, [insert name]. What pronouns should I use?”

    “The more we make sharing of pronouns a universal practice, the more inclusive we will be as a campus,” Braquet concludes. “When our organizational culture shifts to where asking for chosen names and pronouns is the standard practice, it alleviates a heavy burden for persons already marginalized by their gender expression or identity.”

    Republican State Sen. Mae Beavers took a different position, telling Fox News that the gender-neutral pronoun push is “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

    Beavers claims that her constituents are upset that a public university would spend their tax dollars in such a fashion, opining that, “[i]f you must interview a student before you greet the student, that’s not acceptance—that’s just absurd.”

    UT’s Media and Internal Relations director, Karen Ann Simsen, referred Campus Reform to an official statement from the university clarifying that “there is no mandate or official policy to use gender-neutral pronouns,” and that the primer was merely “offered as a resource for our campus community on inclusive practices.”

    “We do not dictate speech,” the school asserts. “Most people prefer to use the pronouns he and she. However, some don’t … We strive to be a diverse and inclusive campus and to ensure that everyone feels welcome, accepted, and respected.”

    Spokespersons for American University had not responded at press time to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete



    Peter Fricke

    Peter Fricke

    Managing Editor

    Peter Fricke is the Managing Editor for Campus Reform. He has previously worked on state and national political campaigns, and was a reporter for The Daily Caller News Foundation. His email address is pfricke@campusreform.org.

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