[lg policy] He? She? Ze? Colleges add gender-free pronouns, alter policy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Sep 18 21:04:18 UTC 2015

 He? She? Ze? Colleges add gender-free pronouns, alter policy

Originally published September 18, 2015 at 7:00 am Updated September 18,
2015 at 9:59 am

In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 photo, Laila Smith, a junior at Harvard
University, poses at a gate leading to Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Mass.
During the registration process, students at Harvard are now allowed to
indicate... (AP Photo/Steven Senne) More

Harvard isn't the first college to embrace gender-neutral pronouns, but
it's among a wave of major institutions that are widening their policies
and pronouns to acknowledge transgender students, as well as "genderqueer"
students, who don't identify as male or female.
The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Welcome to Harvard. Feel free to pick a pronoun on this form:
__ He. __ She. __ Ze. __ E. __ They.

During the registration process at Harvard University, students are now
allowed to indicate which pronouns they use, with suggested gender-neutral
options like “ze” or “they.” Harvard isn’t the first college to embrace
gender-neutral pronouns, but it’s among a wave of major institutions that
are widening their policies and pronouns to acknowledge transgender
students, as well as “genderqueer” students, who don’t identify as male or

“If someone is being alienated or potentially outed by inappropriate gender
references, we think that’s not appropriate,” said Michael Burke, registrar
of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

American University posted a guide on its website explaining how to use
pronouns like “ey,” and how to ask someone which pronouns they use. Cornell
University and MIT offer similar primers on their websites. Ohio University
started letting students register their gender pronouns this year, and
officials at Boston University said they’re discussing the topic. Last
week, the State University of New York, one of the nation’s largest public
college systems, announced that it’s working on a data-collection tool to
let students choose among seven gender identities, including “trans man,”
”questioning” and “genderqueer.”

Advocates for transgender students applaud the changes, saying it can be
insulting to be identified by the wrong pronoun.

“It feels really invalidating to have people make an assumption about what
your gender is simply by looking at you,” said Genny Beemyn, director of
the Stonewall Center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at
the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Changes at places like Harvard, Beemyn said, represent “acceleration of a
trend that we have been seeing for the past few years.”

Beyond pronouns, more colleges are updating forms that in the past let
students pick between male and female only. Applications to the University
of California system include more options starting this year, letting
students choose from labels including trans female or genderqueer. The move
is meant to welcome those students, but for the first time it also lets the
school track data on how transgender students fare on campus, such as their
graduation rates.

“This is something that people think is long overdue,” said Pamela Brown,
the system’s vice president of institutional research and academic planning.

Academics have suggested for years the idea that gender falls along a
spectrum, not into two options. As early as 2009, schools like the
University of Vermont were letting students pick their gender pronouns.

But the work of campus advocacy groups, plus the emergence of transgender
figures in pop culture, has fueled wider change, experts say.

It’s now commonplace for colleges to offer housing for transgender
students. On the first day of class, some professors voluntarily ask
students to provide their pronouns.

But on some campuses, change has provoked backlash.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, sparked outrage among state
politicians in August when a post on the school website encouraged students
to use pronouns such as “xe.” State senators blasted the idea and called
for an investigation of the post. Days later, by the order of the school
president, it was taken down. A spokeswoman for the university declined to

Grammarians, too, have chafed at the idea of pronouns that stretch modern
English. Some individuals who don’t identify as male or female use the
pronoun “they,” which some academics say should be reserved for plural

At Harvard, 4,000 students have submitted pronouns so far, with slightly
more than 1 percent choosing something other than “he” or “she,” said
Burke, the registrar.

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Laila Smith filled in “they” and “their” on the form, pronouns the junior
started using earlier this year.

“By now, we’ve figured out that sexuality is fluid, gender is fluid,” said
Smith, who identifies as genderqueer. “I think that we’re at the beginning
of it all, and I hope to see this more integrated into the student life
that I experience.”

For now, there’s nothing requiring students or professors to use the
pronouns students pick. But Burke said the university is planning to train
faculty members how to look up a student’s pronouns, and explain their

“We want this to be a place that is inclusive,” Burke said, “and embracing
of everybody in the community.”



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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