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Choosing pronouns cannot be a joke

Credit: India Price/Online Editor Credit: India Price/Online Editor
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In an attempt to address inclusion, the University of Michigan rolled out a decision last week allowing its students to choose their preferred designated pronoun. The selected pronoun will then become the student’s identifier in class rosters and among friends.

Before I dive deeper into the issue, for all the non-grammar fans who are reading this article, a designated pronoun is a pronoun that an individual chooses for himself so that others use this identifier to refer him (he, she, her, him, etc.). Its usage is fairly simple as your introduction. For example, ‘Hi, my name is X. My pronouns are she/her/hers and my major is Y.’ The University of Michigan has urged its students to use he, she, ze — a gender neutral pronoun — or any new self-created pronoun.

The issue of gender inclusion was brought to notice by a petition on Change.org titled, ‘Have the University of Michigan Put Student Pronouns on Class Rosters.’ The petition says that “trans students at the University of Michigan often find themselves facing threats to their mental and physical safety.” The seriousness of the matter can be well estimated by the fact that this petition was started last semester and presently has 796 supporters. The Pronoun Committee at the University of Michigan took the students’ grievances into consideration and gave infinite pronoun choices to the students.

The University believes that it is important to identify, respect and nurture all gender identities in order to promote a healthy community. The role of faculty is paramount to the effectiveness of this new policy and therefore, the university has requested its faculty to revise their rosters around mid-late October, thereby giving students the required time to select their names.
While you might have already started coming up with names for yourself and probably thinking that this is a great move by the University of Michigan, let us talk about what students at the University actually think.

The students are mocking this move!

They are claiming that this policy mocks the English language and is totally ridiculous — that allowing students to choose from an infinite number of pronouns is bizarre. According to many students at the University, the policy just creates complexity in terms of names and is more related to fiction than reality. Now before you brainstorm over ‘fiction,’ the term here refers to the silly pronouns that students are designating themselves with. Some of them are ‘Your Majesty,’ ‘Your Highness,’ ‘The Greatest of All Time’ and ‘Unicorn’. The policy has totally turned into a fun game for students, hashtag UMpronounchallenge on Twitter.

My reaction? I am confused! Are these not the students who demanded change in the first place? Or is it that the real ones who demanded change never really got time to act or use the policy because of the hyped drama that swooped in? Nobody knows!

But there is indeed something that I know.

First, the university did their best to serve the rights of all genders. Living in a nation that promotes gender equality, diversity, and inclusion, the best way in which one can contribute his part is by showing sincere efforts to the betterment of the society.

The University of Michigan differentiated itself from other educational institutions by accommodating gender inclusion in its policy. Restricting the pronoun selection to only a few words would have been similar to boxing and tagging the [gender queers] to the gender binary system.

Second, the students, rather than mocking and coming up with silly names, could have been a catalyst to the change by supporting the policy. The relationship between the University and its students is mutual. Each has to take care of the other and foster the relation. Playing around with names and pronouns will not help the society fight for a better cause. Instead, respecting the University’s decision by letting those in need enter their own pronouns would have been helpful. The students who did not need it should not have used it to goof up with their names.

If you check Twitter’s #UMpronounchallenge page, you would hardly find a serious talk around the topic. Students are teasing each other and enjoying the self-proclaimed names.

Students have even confused the titles with the pronouns and in response to this, a professor at the University replied back saying, “Call me an old-fashioned former English teacher, but titles are not pronouns."

The overall picture of the whole policy change is not very optimistic as it has turned into a mini-disaster. Let’s see how far this goes.

In 2015, The University of Tennessee-Knoxville suggested the use of pronouns for gender inclusion such as “ze, xe, xem, xyr, zirs and hirs,” but the suggestion was taken away soon due to the amount of resistance it suffered. Let us hope the that University of Michigan does not meet the same fate.

It is time to inspect our education system and make necessary reforms in the inclusion policy. As a nation that takes pride in diversity and inclusion, it becomes necessary to nurture all genders and promote them at the very basic level, i.e. education. Surprisingly, corporations in our country have better statistics over gender-inclusion than educational institutions. Is this worth pondering?

Gender inclusiveness needs attention from around the country because this conversation is just getting louder, not quieter.