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Ask before you assume: Creating a campus climate of inclusion


November 9, 2017

The Student Voice recently made a mistake. In the last issue, in the article entitled, “UW System’s free speech policy, Young Americans for Liberty spark controversy at UW-River Falls,” one of the quoted people, Ardin Fischer, was misgendered. Rather than “her feelings,” the article should have read, “their feelings.”

We at the Student Voice believe that mistakes like this are part of a much larger problem. People who identify by genders and sexual orientations beyond male/female and heterosexual are becoming far more common in U.S. culture. Same-sex marriage was legal as of 2015, and Andrea Jenkins won her Minneapolis city council race on Tuesday night to become the first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office in the U.S.

With this in mind, we think that it is time that our culture begins making changes to more fairly accommodate this new section of the populace.

This can begin with actions as simple as asking a person about how they identify rather than assuming and making mistakes based on preconceived notions. Asking them which pronouns they prefer to be referred to by can be interpreted as a sign of respect and acknowledgement.

Taking this a step further, it might be time that the English language change more drastically to accommodate these newly-established genders and sexual orientations. Currently, the most common way to refer to someone who identifies as neither male nor female is “they” or “their.” This is clunky and grammatically incorrect, and it would be far simpler and more clear to have a distinct pronoun that correctly identifies the person’s gender identity.

There’s another problem that stems directly from these sorts of confusions. When someone who is transgender becomes offended by misrepresentations of their gender, other people who are less on board with the concept of non-traditional genders can become annoyed and use the situation as grounds to justify their opinions. Instead of understanding why the person takes offense, they blame them for taking offense. This is illogical, since anyone, regardless of gender orientation, would take offense at being called by an incorrect pronoun.

Creating new pronouns and establishing a culture of inclusion could help curb this sort of thinking, and potentially prompt non-supporters of transgender culture to educate themselves and maybe even accept these people with new perspectives.

UW-River Falls, this week, is making important strides in raising awareness. There are movies and speakers coming to campus with background on these topics, and students can watch them for free. On Friday afternoon, Dr. Alex Hall will give a presentation on “Understanding Transgender Students.” This informative presentation is open to “all types of learners, from middle school students to medical professionals and everything in between.”

Efforts like this are a good sign that the university recognizes the growing populations of transgender students and the need to include them as a distinct culture on campus. However, the university can only do so much to change the campus climate. The power ultimately rests in the hands of students, who must make the decision to inform themselves on  this new group of people and act towards them in a way that is in line with how you might treat anyone else on campus.