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Unofficial gender policy implemented by English department

The Mary Atkins Lounge offers some gender pronoun cards. (Jen Ramos)

The buzz around Mills campus is the addition –– however unofficial, according to English professor Ajuan Mance –– of a policy being implemented by professors in the English Department, urging them to ask students which gender pronoun they would prefer when being addressed.

While the Diversity and Social Justice Committee on campus has been striving to improve awareness of students’  gender pronouns preferences, Mance was instrumental in bringing the policy to many English professors’ syllabi. According to Mance, the new policy has been a work-in-progress for The Committee since the spring of 2009. According to the Mills website, The Committee’s goal is to promote diversity and social justice among all members of the Mills community.

“While Mills remains a single-sex undergraduate institution, the College and its faculty are increasingly putting in place practices to respond to the needs and interests of students who identify with a variety of genders or, in some cases, with no gender at all,” Mance said.

Distinctions between gender pronouns in the classroom would help “raise awareness of gender diversity by honoring any student’s gender identification,” Mance said.

Some have felt that Mills should be addressing issues regarding student gender pronoun preferences.

“The biggest issue,” said Shaun Salas, a sophmore who prefers being addressed as ‘they’ and ‘them,’ “is not being asked what gender pronoun a person prefers.”

According to  Salas,  gender pronouns are “used to describe someone not by name.  There are gendered pronouns, such as ‘he/his’ and ‘she/hers,’ and then there are gender-neutral pronouns, including ‘they/them’ and ‘ze/zir/zirs.’ ”

Going into their second year at Mills, Salas wanted to take a proactive role in bringing change to the campus, so they created a card for students to give to their professors. The cards allow individuals to indicate their preferred
gender pronouns.

“The gender pronoun cards started out as a way for me and my friends to let professors know how we wished to be addressed,” Salas said.  But as more students became aware of the cards, using them became “an act of solidarity, creating a larger community,” Salas said.

Evan Kravette, a sophomore who also prefers gender pronouns such as “they” and “them,” said that this new policy is “really important (and will) add visibility to the number of students who choose alternate gender pronouns.”

However, Kravette said that the policy of asking students which gender pronoun they would prefer “is not really being implemented, except in certain English classes,” as in, for example, Mance’s own Survey of African American Literature. “Correct implementation will (only) make students feel more accepted,” Kravette said, which they hope will create a positive atmosphere that is conducive  to learning.