Culture

Should All Schools Spend $80K to Make Software Systems Gender-Neutral?

The University of Vermont spent $80,000 and six months adding gender-neutral options to its information system in 2009, and has continued to update it to add even more choices.

In September, the system was updated to allow students to request being called “they,” something it had previously rejected, since it is grammatically a plural pronoun, according to an article in the New York Times published this week.

The Times article, published on Tuesday, provided a history of the school’s increasing accommodations for transgender students, declaring it was “at the forefront in recognizing the next step in identity politics: the validation of a third gender.”

UVM was the first school in the country to allow students to select which pronoun they preferred in its system. The system also allows them to select “name only,” which means the student is opposed to pronouns in general and wants to be addressed only by name — something more than 200 transgender students have selected since 2009, according to the Times.

Of course, even before the software update, transgender students who did use another name could already inform the school about it and have it changed in the system — but this required an in-person visit to the dean’s office and filling out some paperwork, and advocates said this was too much to ask.

Despite all these accommodations, many advocates say it’s still not enough. For example, when the the information system suffered a glitch last year that affected the gender-neutral options, students were quick to attack the school as actually being hostile to transgender students. Others reject the phrase “preferred pronouns” in general, explaining that those are their pronouns and that’s a matter of fact, not preference.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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