Pitt offers guide on creating 'gender-inclusive' classroom

The University of Pittsburgh has created a list of guidelines to help students and professors avoid “unintentionally creating a sexist and homophobic classroom environment.”

“Teachers can and should honor the breadth of experience and potential in students’ lives by discussing women, gender non-conforming, and LGBT-identified people,” the “Gender-Inclusive Guidelines” primer states. “For example, avoid giving examples that assume that all doctors are men.”

[RELATED: Purdue writing guide: Words with ‘MAN’ should be avoided]

The guide, which was produced by the school’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department, also advises that “gender-neutral” language should be used to “help foster a culture of inclusivity” on campus, warning that “misgendering someone is disrespectful and dismissive.”

To that end, the guide lists seven words that students should “avoid”—many of which refer to male-dominated occupations—including “policeman,” “fireman,” “congressman,” “chairman,” “stewardess,” “freshman” and “mankind.” 

Instead, students are advised to use the gender-neutral form of each word, such as “first-year student” instead of “freshman,” and “chairperson” instead of “chairman.”

[RELATED: Writing course calls inclusive language ‘an ethical obligation’]

With similar gender-neutral language guides facing a great deal of criticism recently, Pitt’s guide provides students with a list of talking points to deal with foreseeable “objections made about gender inclusive/ non-sexist language.” 

For example, if someone tells a student that gender-neutral language is not “correct,” they are advised to retort that the idea of correctness “is a social and ideological construction that only began to become conceivable, especially for English, in the 17th century.” 

“Correctness is arguably a social evaluation mechanism to know who has learned the language of a particular group (class, race, etc.),” the guide continues, adding that “language is always changing.” 

[RELATED: Harvard tells students gender can ‘change from day to day’]

The guide also frames the adoption of gender-neutral language as a strategy to promote social change, explaining that “changing the language is part of making the world a more equitable place for people who don’t feel they fit into the gender binary.” 

Despite the guide’s admonitions “not to use” and to “avoid” certain language, it later clarifies that “No one is ordering you to use this language,” and therefore that it doesn’t constitute an “imposition on free speech.” 

“However, some people are asking you to be considerate of their wishes and sensibilities. In short, it’s merely politeness—politeness is about consideration for other people,” the guide explains, concluding by asking, “Isn’t it nice to have a little guidance about how to be considerate and polite?” 

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Pittsburgh for comment on the guide, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen