[lg policy] Gender-neutral pronoun policy lacking at Ryerson

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Apr 6 20:47:22 UTC 2016

 Gender-neutral pronoun policy lacking at Ryerson
21 hours ago
[image: A lack of policy surrounding gender-neutral pronouns has created
issues for students in the classroom. PHOTO: Jake Scott]

Photo: Jake Scott

*By Nicole Schmidt and Brenda Molina-Navidad*

A lack of university policy surrounding gender-neutral pronoun usage in the
classroom has been causing problems for transgender students.

Trans Collective coordinator Markus Harwood-Jones, who uses he and they
pronouns, said they choose not to use gender-neutral pronouns in class
because of how often professors are unwilling to be accommodating. Issues
that stem from within the classroom, they added, are the most common
complaints students bring forward.

While writing an essay earlier this year, Harwood-Jones used gender-neutral
pronouns. When the assignment was returned, they said the professor flagged
the pronoun-use as a grammatical issue.

“This professor was very adamant. Even after we spoke and agreed to
disagree, she still expressed that she doesn’t feel like it’s academically
appropriate,” said Harwood-Jones, adding that they’ve seen other instances
where students have felt so marginalized in class that they’ve stopped

There has been a long standing debate within academic communities when it
comes to pronoun-usage. Gender-specific pronouns, such as “she” and “he,”
are typically encouraged in academic writing over “they,” “them” and
“their.” Despite disagreements over grammar, the use of gender-neutral
pronouns has become more common and, according to the Oxford Dictionaries,
is now widely accepted in speech and writing.

Grammatical discrepancies are common among students, according to Jane
Freeman, director of English Language and Writing Support at the University
of Toronto (U of T). This can make the differentiation unclear when
somebody has made an error, she added. “Using a plural pronoun to mean a
singular is grammatically incorrect. However, it’s become a statement of
personal identity to use a gender neutral pronoun for some writers in
context,” she said. “When it’s used strategically in that context, it’s not
an error; it’s a choice.”

U of T does not currently have a formal policy in place prohibiting or
accepting the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Nora Farrell, Ryerson’s Ombudperson who assists students with complaints
surrounding fairness, emphasized that language is constantly evolving to
reflect the way society is moving. “It’s really more of an inclusion
issue,” she said.

Some universities in Canada have adopted policies to address language
issues. Mount Allison University in New Brunswick has a policy on the use
of gender-neutral pronouns, which states that “Gender neutral language
shall be used in all official University documents … as well as in other
University communications.” These guidelines were created “to be of
assistance to members of the university community in every academic
situation in choosing words which are accurate, clear and free from bias.”

York also has a gender-free language policy, in addition to a guide on
gender identity and expression. Similarly, Queen’s created inclusive
language guidelines, which favour gender-neutral phrases over those that
make “sex distinctions.”

While Ryerson does have a discrimination and harassment prevention policy,
which includes gender identity and gender expression, gender-neutral
language and pronoun usage is not included. Andrew Hunter, Ryerson’s
Interim Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts, said there are no
gender-neutral language regulations within the English department. He added
that he is not aware of regulations within other departments.

But Dale Smith, associate professor in Ryerson’s English department, said
creating a policy for gender-neutral pronouns may be problematic because it
could shift the focus away from the issue.

“Imposing policy guidelines around language is kind of a dangerous approach
to it and it doesn’t build anything but respect for policy rather than
respect for the larger reality that we inhabit,” he said.

For many students, the advocacy for gender-pronoun usage falls on them.
Fifth-year social work student Gabi Tabi said pronoun use isn’t something
that’s openly discussed, and that it should be.

“Some people think, ‘It’s just a gender pronoun, it’s no big deal.’ But it
is a big deal for me. It’s a part of my identity. For people who don’t
respect those pronouns, it really invalidates you and your identity.”


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