The university wants students to use gender neutral pronouns in order to be “welcoming” to all students.
To me, it seems like cult brainwashing to make people under your influence engage in new rituals in order to break their beliefs and install new ones. But at the University of Tennessee, it is a matter of being “welcoming and inclusive.”
Thus, we find this post from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on the university website: “Inclusive Practice: Pronoun Usage.”
With the new semester beginning and an influx of new students on campus, it is important to participate in making our campus welcoming and inclusive for all. One way to do that is to use a student’s chosen name and their correct pronouns.
We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems. Transgender people and people who do not identity within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth.
Let’s ask why people shouldn’t be called by their names on the roster. In the real world, people do not often choose their own names. Their parents do that at their birth. That fact reminds us that many things in life are given to us before we know anything about them: our economic class, our nationality, our spoken language, our race, our culture. A person can change some of these things, but it will take a tremendous amount of effort. An English-speaker can move to Brazil and eventually speak Portuguese most of the time (or the Brazilian dialect thereof). But it would be a slow process in which the person used the knowledge he gained as an English speaker to learn a new language and then practice it until it became natural. But he would never be able to unlearn English.
People don’t start out as blank slates who then write their own content. They eventually gain the ability to contribute their own creativity to the book of their lives, but they always have to build (even if they want to alter it drastically) on what others left them.
So this rule that we must always ignore the roster and ask students what they want to call themselves is a gratuitous imposition. If people want to re-name themselves, it is their responsibility to do so, not someone else’s responsibility to help them.
After all, if a person has a right to name themselves then they have the right to do so differently every week, every day, every hour. So if we are really going to insist on pretending that identifying a person by an externally imposed word is some kind of violation, then we need to ask them what they are going by each and every time we communicate with them.
And this would be true of the gender pronouns as well. If we have a responsibility to ask then we should ask every time.
With the demand for us to use whatever names and pronouns a person requests (or demands) comes this handy guide to gender neutral pronouns:
Authority figures imposing strange rituals on people in order to break them from their past and their culture reminds me of a scene from the TV show Millennium that Mark Horne quoted a couple of years ago in writing about an incident at a public school.
CATHERINE: And you are gone because of them. They have so engulfed your life; you don’t even care about your own daughter. These are the psychological tactics…
FRANK: (grabbing Catherine) … of a cult!
Yes, indeed. These are the psychological tactics of a cult.