Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Colleges make push for neutral pronouns

As more people come out as transgender, gender-neutral or gender-fluid, colleges are taking measures to suit students’ needs, and Plattsburgh State is no exception.

The University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, Harvard University and the University of California’s family of colleges have made a push for gender-neutral pronouns for their students, USA Today reported. In August, Vanderbilt introduced gender-neutral pronouns to their student handbook.

According to University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s LGBT Resource Center, “some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available … Also, the dichotomy of ‘he and she’ in English does not leave room for other gender identities, which is a source of frustration to the transgender and queer communities.”

The LGBT Resource Center lists several pronouns by gender and case. Gender-neutral subject pronouns include e/ey, per, sie, ve and zie, while object pronouns include em, per, sir, ver and zim. The website said because people can be limited by the bi-gendered nature of the English language, people in the LGBT community try to create pronouns that better suit their gender identities.

“There have been many conversations on campus about gender identity,” Plattsburgh State Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said. He said the PSUC community has had students, whom he said are “great student advocates,” who have brought attention to this topic.
Hartman said there is a SUNY-level initiative for a voluntary survey that will ask students at least once a year to “self-identify” in regard to gender.

PSUC Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise said the survey will allow students to self-identify as either male, female, transgender male, transgender female, gender-fluid, unsure or “prefer not to answer.”

Hartman said every SUNY campus will administer this survey, and every student will be asked to take it before registering for spring classes. In addition to gender identity, students will be asked if they want to disclose sexual orientation, disability, race and other identifiable characteristics as well.

“If a student wants to disclose that to the campus, then we will know,” Hartman said.

Each person who completes the survey will be identifiable by name.

He said there is discrimination toward people whose gender conflicts with their biological sex.

“Depending on how students respond (to the survey), it may confirm what we think we already know, (or) it may open our eyes to a picture that we have no sense about,” he said. “It will be quite interesting.”

While Hartman said there is no federal law mandating the campus accommodates students based on gender identity, “why would you answer if you didn’t expect us to do something about it?” he said.

In the face of gender identity, bathrooms have also been a large focus.

“We would be expected to allow someone to use a facility with the gender they identify with,” Hartman said, as Title IX now includes issues of gender identity. “While some individuals on our campus would have a problem with that, I think the administration of the college would have no problem fully supporting that.”

Hartman said that as renovations in residence halls continue and if everything “falls into place,” bathrooms will be renovated to be gender-neutral, beginning with Moffitt Hall. These bathrooms will feature private stalls so that anyone can use these facilities if they choose to.
He said there is no privacy the way the men’s locker room is currently arranged, and if a transgender individual were to use that locker room, it would not be safe for that person.

Hartman also mentioned that there would be a meeting regarding possible future renovations of Memorial Hall, not only for the setup of the locker rooms, but also for the state of the building.

Hartman said almost all renovations on campus will include renovations to help make bathrooms gender-neutral.

PSUC Assistant Director of Housing Trisha Pellerin said there is currently gender-inclusive housing in a wing in Adirondack Hall. There are two gender-inclusive suites in DeFredenburgh Hall as well.

“As we grow the program, we are open to expanding the program to other areas as well,” the PSUC website said.

Hartman said PSUC administration continues to explore the idea of giving students the option to use preferred names in lieu of given names.

“Now that the climate has changed, a lot of people still don’t know the difference between sex and gender and gender identity,” Blaise said. “If someone identifies as male or female they have those rights based on that gender identification versus what box we may normally put them into.”
Famous Tillman, president of the LGBTQ Student Union said he originally stepped into the role to let LGBTQ students know they have a safe space to come out.

“We have a lot of open discussion, and it helps people to come out of their shell a little bit,” Tillman said. “I think that’s what college is supposed to be about.”

USA Today reported on a controversy that hit the University of Tennessee once they decided to encourage the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as ze and xyr.

“I think the outrage just comes from a traditional perspective of being raised a certain way,” Tillman said. “People have a tendency to not want to let go of their preconceived notions. It’s hard to go through life being told one thing and then having other people challenge that idea.”
Tillman said that while it’s important for people to have the freedom to identify as whomever they want, it’s also important everyone respects each other.

Regarding the upcoming survey, he said the survey isn’t about only getting information from students.

“While a survey is good in that it helps people to see, I think we should create a forum … where students can come (who) don’t necessarily identify with the normative … identities,” Tillman said. “They can come, and they can talk about these issues and talk about their life on campus and what it means to them to be a student at Plattsburgh.”

Email Timothy Lyman at timothy.lyman@cardinalpointsonline.com

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