News and Commentary

University Plans To Require Students, Professors To Use Preferred Pronouns Or Else

The University of Minnesota has proposed a policy that would punish students and professors for not using someone’s preferred gender pronoun. Failure to do so may result in expulsion for students or firing for professors.

The draft policy, titled “Equity and Access: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Names and Pronouns,” states that UM wants to provide an environment “free from discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and gender expression …” The school will do so by providing gender inclusive options available for housing, restrooms and locker rooms.

The school will allow students and faculty to “specify a name and/or gender identity that differs from the name and/or sex, sex assigned at birth, and/or gender identity listed on their legal documents.” They will also be allowed to specify their preferred pronouns (such as he, she, ze, or something else) “without being required to provide documentation of their gender identity.”

Students and faculty can specify their preferred pronouns and gender identity either in writing or verbally. School officials “must take reasonable steps” to maintain the person’s original names and sex in university records if they differ from the preferred gender identity and pronouns.

Students are allowed to choose from a list of personal pronouns on the campus website: He/him/his, none, prefer not to specify, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or ze/zir/zirs. They can also specify their gender identity as one of the following: Agender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, man, nonbinary, prefer not to specify, two spirit, woman, or they can enter their own.

Assistant Director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Gabrielle Mead told the Star-Tribune that the policy is intended to “create more access and an inclusive environment for all of our community members regardless of their gender identity.” Mead’s office is overseeing the new policy.

The policy is “one of the most ambitious of its kind in the country,” the Tribune reported, adding that it will likely be revised before becoming enforceable on campus. An earlier draft that circulated the campus “just set off the free speech alarms immediately,” Joseph Konstan, computer science professor and chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee, told the Tribune.

“I don’t think it’s a controversial idea that people should be addressed as they prefer to be addressed,” he said. “Where it becomes controversial is where you move from being about good behavior … into a disciplinary matter.”

That earlier draft led members of several organizations key to advancing the policy to have concerns that the language was too vague, which could have led to misinterpretations. The school’s Council of Graduate Students also requested more specific consequences for those who break the new rules.

The new draft has addressed some of those concerns. Those who fail to adhere to the new policy, when implemented, will receive “disciplinary action up to and including termination from employment and academic sanctions up to and including academic expulsion.”

While these disciplinary actions appear harsh, it is still unclear how extensive the violation would need to be to result in expulsion or termination. When the draft was first introduced, the executive director and founder of Campus Pride, Shane Windmeyer, said: “The very first time a professor uses the wrong name or pronoun, it creates an environment where the individual doesn’t feel comfortable.”

The College Fix notes that this policy appears similar to what is occurring in Canada, which now includes gender identity and gender expression in its discrimination laws.

The university defines gender identity as “an individual’s own understanding of themselves in terms of gendered categories …” and further states:

Gender identity cannot be observed; the only way a person can know an individual’s gender identity is when they tell you. An individual’s gender identity may be consistent over their lifetime or may shift over time. Gender identity differs from sexual orientation, which refers to an individual’s patterns of romantic and/or sexual attraction, in terms of gender.

Representatives from UM’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Agency, Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, and the Trans Advisory & Action Team did not respond to a request for comment prior to press time.

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