Recently, one of the South’s most prestigious private institutions, Emory University, announced it will allow students to “select their own pronouns.”
Emory is hardly alone. According to CampusPride.org, at least 242 campuses nationwide now do the same. But this headline caught my eye because Emory is practically in my backyard. It’s only a matter of time before the deadly “preferred pronoun” virus spreads to Georgia’s public institutions like the one where I teach.
Perhaps more compelling than the headline itself, however, were the comments accompanying the Facebook post where I first encountered it. Some readers praised Emory for its wokeness; others criticized it for the same reason. But several expressed genuine bewilderment, essentially asking, “What’s the big deal?”
Quite frankly, the subject is significant for several reasons. Pronouns themselves are obviously important as they reflect both reality and grammatical logic. But the totalitarian urge to compel speech, which is at the heart of the pronoun debate, is an even bigger deal, threatening our fundamental right to think and speak freely — and ultimately, to tell the truth.
That is especially true for college professors, who are in the truth business. To remain true to ourselves, to our raison d’etre, we have a responsibility to confront reality while guiding others within our sphere of influence to do the same.
By referring to a male student as “she,” we shirk that responsibility. We deny reality. We perpetuate an untruth. In a word, we lie.
Nor is it “kind” or “polite” merely to accede to the student’s wishes. Promoting lies is never in the best interests of students — or of the academy. If that male student genuinely believes he is a woman, he is at the very least delusional, possibly to the point of contemplating self-harm, as nearly half of transgender youth have considered suicide. Reinforcing people’s dangerous delusions is neither rational nor compassionate. It is every bit as enabling as handing an alcoholic a bottle.
Furthermore, requiring professors to use students’ “preferred pronouns” imposes an unreasonable burden. To be fair, the article doesn’t say Emory is making this a requirement — yet. But we all know how the Left operates. Any onerous new policy introduced as “optional” quickly becomes mandatory.
Meanwhile, Emory students can now go online and choose from an array of possible pronouns, including he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, xie/hir/hirs, and ze/zir/zirs. These will then be added to their student profiles and appear on class rosters.
Thus, to appear “inclusive,” Emory faculty must now memorize not only students’ names but also their pronouns.
Professors already have a lot on their plates. With approximately 125 students each semester, it’s all I can do to learn their names. It takes me several weeks, for which I apologize in advance while soliciting patience.
So why can’t I do the same with pronouns — just work at it until I get them down? For one thing, the kind of people who demand “their pronouns” generally seem intolerant of such ordinary human frailty. As I suggested above, remembering all those pronouns is just one more mental chore to occupy my time — which is better spent teaching writing, as I’m paid to do.
But the bottom line is that I simply don’t want to memorize students’ made-up pronouns, nor should I have to. The English language already has a perfectly good set of pronouns that cover every possibility. Unlike names, which are specific to individuals, pronouns are not “owned.” They are grammatical constructs that identify people based on observable characteristics and therefore belong to all who speak the language.
You should no more demand that people refer to you by specific pronouns than you should insist they describe you with your “preferred adjectives.” To do so is rude and selfish. No one has any right to make such demands of others.
So no, I will not be using students’ “preferred pronouns,” even if my university mandates it. I invite like-minded colleagues at Emory and elsewhere to join me in resisting this woke authoritarianism while we still can. Perhaps together we can salvage some last shreds of dignity and freedom.
After all, if our academic overlords can force us to recite ridiculous, made-up words like “xie” and “zirs,” what can they NOT make us say — or do?
Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University – Perimeter College. The views expressed here are his own.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Daily Wire.