Students and staff at the University of Sussex have been told to use gender neutral pronouns following students’ requests to help prevent transgender discrimination on campus.
Introducing a new “gender inclusive” language policy, Sussex University Student Union (USSU) has advised its members to “avoid making assumptions” and encourage the use of “them” and “they” instead of “he” or “she” when addressing a person whose gender identity has not been directly stated.
The union is believed to be one of the first in the country to promote the use of gender-neutral language in an official manner, but several other universities are rumoured to be introducing similar policies.
The new guidance aims to promote equality across “all the genders” and "reduce the impact that gender has on education and participation" in the students’ union.
Rose Taylor, Postgraduate Education Officer for USSU told The Independent: “The new gender inclusive policy was written by and voted through by students to make the Students' Union a more inclusive and comfortable environment for trans and non-binary students.
“It's a really simple but important step forward as, for some people, using the wrong pronouns can have a hugely negative impact on a person's mental health and general experience at university."
Gender neutral pronouns are to be used across Sussex campus, including students’ union meetings, student media, union campaigns, elections and within university societies.
“If a person’s pronouns have not been stated, gender neutral language must be used. Once stated, a person’s pronouns must be respected,” union officers advise.
The union also requests that individuals’ pronouns are stated at the beginning of every meeting, “even if they have been stated at previous meetings”.
“In situations where introductions are not appropriate or where an individual has not directly stated their pronouns, gender-neutral language should be used to refer to them, and no assumptions should be made based on presentation or appearance.
“The gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ should be used as opposed to “he” or “she”, and the pronoun “them” as opposed to “him” or “her”.
“Individuals whose gender identities are not known should not be described as “men” or “women”, and inclusive terms such as “person” should be used instead.
“The use of gender-neutral language by other students in situations where pronouns have not been stated should be encouraged, although this is impractical to enforce.”
Gender neutral pronouns such as “xe” and “ze” have already been brought into common use at the University of Tennessee, US, and this summer the Boarding Schools’ Association issued guidance for teachers to address transgender pupils as “zie” to avoid offence.
Joe Williams, Communications Officer at Stonewall said: “We welcome all efforts to increase understanding of trans issues in university so that all students feel happy, welcome and accepted.
“Encouraging the use of preferred pronouns is an important part of this education, giving young people a broader understanding of people’s differences and allowing all students to realise their full potential. It also helps ensure that trans people, whether at university, in work or otherwise, are respected and accepted without exception.”
Sussex students' union said its policy has received a positive reaction from students, however union officers have been forced to deny rumours that gender specific pronouns “he” and “she” had been banned completely, following media speculation.
In a statement, USSU said: “Contrary to some press reports, the Students’ Union has not banned the words she/her/he/him or any other pronoun.
“The gender inclusive language policy created by students and agreed by Students’ Union Council simply asks people not to make assumptions about people’s gender identity or how they'd like to be addressed. This simple shift aims to make Union activities more accessible.
“Students are welcome to use the pronouns they’d like, including she/her/he/him/they/them. These words are frequently used in Union meetings, activities and publications and they can continue to be.”
In December Oxford University Student Union denied reports it had enforced its own gender neutral language policy on campus following similar speculation that use of “he” and “she” had been banned.
They said:” We would also like to clearly state that we would never tell anyone to use ‘ze’ pronouns instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ if ‘he’ or ‘she’ is the pronoun someone wishes to use.”
“We find it disappointing that a piece of misinformation has resulted in a media storm around what is a very basic effort to ensure our trans students feel welcome within the Oxford community.”
OUSU vice president for women, Orla White, added: “No, we didn't publish a leaflet banning gendered pronouns. But we do stand against transphobia.“
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