The University of Minnesota is considering implementing a new policy that would grant the right to transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to be referred to by their preferred pronouns. The policy has come under some scrutiny recently, specifically regarding how this policy will actually be enforced by the University. The policy is currently in draft form, and there will be a 30-day public comment period and more general discussion around the proposition this fall. Meaning, there will be time to determine what repercussions should exist for those who misgender individuals to the point of harassment and discrimination.
Essentially, it’s a work in progress. But that doesn’t mean we should be dismissive of this idea. In fact, we should see this as an opportunity for the University to demonstrate the potential viability of such a policy. This would be a hugely ambitious and progressive step on behalf of the University, as such policies regarding pronouns are not widely enforced across the country. Instead, transgender and gender-nonconforming people are frequently invalidated, reminded of their “otherness” and that their basic identity is something many will refuse to affirm.
Those who oppose this policy often cite free speech as the basis of their dissent. However, if this policy is to be implemented responsibly, it wouldn't infringe on free speech and would give back power to those whose power is often usurped. Hopefully, the policy would serve to safeguard the rights of individuals who are widely mistreated and disrespected in larger society. It is true these individuals are vulnerable in our country, since ours is a culture that often rejects that which it doesn’t understand. This policy could be an important step in making the University campus a space of inclusivity for our gender-nonconforming faculty, staff and students. This goal in itself is an exciting and motivating one, as spaces of acceptance and inclusivity are few and far between for those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming.
Implementing a policy that safeguards the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming members of our campus would be a gesture of acceptance, a gesture that their identities are seen and acknowledged in our community. Proper pronoun usage is already something we’ve become more aware of on our campus in the past few years, but the main benefit of turning awareness into administrative policy would be to empower transgender and gender-nonconforming members of our University — providing them with leverage in cases of real harassment and discrimination.
Everyone on our campus deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, but this policy certainly needs to be more fully fleshed out. The University needs to determine how this would be enforced and how this would affect things like gender-specific locker rooms, bathrooms and roommate assignments. Hopefully our school will ultimately commit to fostering a more inclusive campus as a whole. But if nothing else, we will catalyze a conversation that desperately needs to be had.