Culture

Vanderbilt: Share and Ask Pronouns When Making Introductions ‘Even to Familiar Colleagues and Students’

#CheckYourPronounPrivilege

Vanderbilt University is asking faculty to tell everyone they meet on campus which pronouns they prefer and to ask other people to tell them theirs, even when dealing with “familiar colleagues and students.”

“When introducing yourself, offer your name and pronouns — even to familiar colleagues and students,” asks a poster created by the school’s Faculty Senate Gender Inclusivity Task Force. “Offer your name and pronoun in faculty meetings, committees, and other spaces where students may not be present.”

The poster also gives faculty several examples of how to do this:

“I’m Steve and I use he/him/his pronouns. What should I call you?” and “My pronouns are they/them/theirs. What should I call you?”

Now, personally, I consider it showing basic respect to call people by the pronouns that they choose to use, and I believe that people who choose to use pronouns that might be different from what people might expect should feel comfortable sharing that with others.

This policy, though, makes no sense for one glaring reason: Why the hell would people who are already “familiar” with each other have to share and ask their pronouns when making introductions? After all, at least in most cases, I’m sure that being “familiar” with someone would mean you already know this kind of basic information about them. Certainly, anyone even remotely “familiar” with me would already know that I’m a cisgender woman who uses the pronouns “she/her/hers.” What on earth could be the benefit of pressuring a person to have to ask “What should I call you?” if that person already knows?

What’s more, the poster also advises faculty to include their pronouns in their email signatures, and MRCTV reports that it has also started listing preferred pronouns on faculty member’s nameplates — and knowing about these two suggestions makes the suggestion for an automatic, without-exception pronoun discussion upon meeting even more ridiculous. After all, an email exchange or walking past a person’s office and seeing the nameplate are excellent examples of how people might already be “familiar” with each other before actually having made “introductions.” If two people on Vanderbilt’s campus — people who were following all of the school’s pronoun-related suggestions — found themselves in this situation, they would already know that person’s pronouns before meeting. In order to continue to follow the guidelines, however, they would still have to ask — because it specifies that being “familiar” is no excuse.

The only explanation I can possibly think of relates to a campaign last year at the University of Pittsburgh, which instructed faculty to remember that you can never be sure of a person’s pronouns — even if the person had told you them before — because “a person’s gender identity may change over time.” Now, Vanderbilt’s suggestions don’t specifically mention this, so I’m not sure if it was part of the reasoning behind the “familiar” specification. But even if it were, wouldn’t a person who tended to change pronouns have an email signature that said something like “she/hers/her, but that sometimes changes”? After all, I know that if someone were even remotely “familiar” with me and who I am, they would already know not only what my pronouns are but also that they are not going to change.

#related#Let’s be honest: I’d rather not have to go through this social-justice hoop every time I met someone, especially if the other person and I were already “familiar” enough to not have to do so, and I’d bet that most people feel the same way as I do. Yes, we should definitely work to foster an environment where those who do feel the need to have this discussion can feel comfortable and respected in doing so. But to give a blanket rule that requests this of everyone  – even when there is an explicit logical reason for it not being necessary? Well that, that I’m having a hard time justifying.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online

 

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