Pa. university threatens consequences who misuse pronouns

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Pa. university threatens consequences who misuse pronouns

A Pennsylvania university has threatened that disciplinary “action could be taken” against students who misuse classmates’ preferred gender pronouns.

Point Park University in Pittsburgh’s Office of Equity and Inclusion informed its student body in an email on Sept. 13 of its policies for the 2021-2022 school year, which included a policy on “Misgendering, Pronoun Misuse and Deadnaming” and a “Preferred Name Policy,” according to the email obtained by Campus Reform.

The misgendering policy threatens to punish students “if a complaint is filed” for repeated misuse of a fellow student’s preferred pronouns, or using a student’s “deadname,” or the name they had previously identified with.

“Misgendering, continued misuse of an individual’s pronouns, or using an individual’s deadname after being informed of a chosen name could result in a violation of the Policy on Discrimination and Harassment for gender-based discrimination,” the email states.

“While the University recognizes the aspect of intent versus impact, we must recognize that regardless of the intent, if an individual is impacted in a harmful way, action could be taken if a complaint is filed,” the email states.

The university’s Preferred Name Policy allows for any faculty, staff or student to “identify themselves within the University community with a preferred first and/or middle name that differs from their legal name,” according to the policy, unless it is deemed inappropriate or could be “interpreted as offensive to a reasonable person.”

A guide from Point Park University in Pittsburgh on how its students should use the correct pronouns.
A guide from Point Park University in Pittsburgh on how its students should use the correct pronouns.

The email included links to the PPU’s Pronoun and Inclusive Language Guide, which suggests replacing common gendered words with neutral ones, such as replacing “boyfriend/girlfriend” with “partner” or “ladies and gentlemen” with “students/guests.”

Point Park University’s student government president Dennis McDermott told Campus Reform he believes that the school’s pronoun misuse policy would look similar to other policies concerning different kinds of discrimination on campus.

“I would imagine any violation [in this case misgendering, misuse of pronouns, or incorrectly using someone’s deadname when you are aware of their preferred name and pronouns] would result in a similar action to any act of discrimination against students on campus,” McDermott told Campus Reform in a statement.

An extract from the Park Point University pronoun guide detailing punishments if a complaint is filed for pronoun or name misusage.
An extract from the Point Park University pronoun guide detailing punishments if a complaint is filed for pronoun or name misuse.
Campus Reform

“I, of course, respect the beliefs of others and their right to express those beliefs, but those beliefs, no matter what they are, cannot impede or harm the rights of others, in this case the right of a student to be respected in their use of their preferred name and pronouns.”

Louis Corso, Point Park University’s managing director of marketing and public relations, also backed the policy, telling Campus Reform, “Point Park University expects every member of its community — students, faculty and staff — to treat each other with respect.”

Some students at PPU, where there are about 3,000 undergraduates and over 1,000 graduates, told the outlet that they were unsure how to feel about the policy and its enforcement.

“I understand what the university is trying to do, to be more inclusive and make those people feel more involved and maybe less separated and more respected, but by asking me to do this instead of just allowing students to do it themselves is making me feel uncomfortable and making me feel like my choice isn’t being respected,” student Caitlin Wiscombe told Campus Reform. 

Sophomore Tyler Hertwig, a track and field athlete, said he does not support the university’s policies.

“I think it’s unreasonable to expect the 99.99% to compromise for the 0.01%,”  Hertwig told Campus Reform. 

“To expect people to completely rewire how they interact with others is nuts. All for what, that 1 in 50 million chance of them possibly running into someone that’s ‘not’ a male or female,” Hertwig said.

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