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Staff Editorial: Gender identity and expression

The purple-white-green pride flag symbolizes genderqueer and non-binary identities. (Wikimedia Commons)
The purple-white-green pride flag symbolizes genderqueer and non-binary identities. (Wikimedia Commons)

As a women’s college, Mills is well-versed in providing a safe space for those who have faced discrimination based on their gender. As a college devoted to diversity and social justice, Mills is now making an effort to be conscious of different gender identities and the ways in which they are expressed. These days syllabi often contain a paragraph about acknowledging different gender identities, and many professors have begun asking students their preferred gender pronouns, or PGPs, on the first day of class. But even as Mills maintains and increases its progressive nature, some students still feel there is a long way to go to being fully gender-inclusive.

Some members of The Campanil staff have noticed professors forgetting to use a classmate’s PGP or preferred name, or appearing not to be inclusive of non-binary genders in the classroom. The Campanil understands the frustration that this brings for some students, and that having one’s gender identity and expression recognized is important. On the other hand, we also feel that when someone makes a mistake regarding another person’s gender identity, the situation should be treated with understanding on both ends.

Though in our eyes the growing understanding and support for diverse genders is a positive thing, it also raises some thought-provoking questions for The Campanil staff, such as how PGPs fit into the language of academia. For example, if a person identifies as non-gender binary and chooses to use “they/them” as gender-neutral pronouns, how would this be viewed within the firm standards of scholastic work? Because “they/them” is defined as a plural pronoun, would using it in an academic paper, with singular verbs for example, be viewed as incorrect? Would a professor be viewed as ignorant or morally wrong for reprimanding a student for making this grammatical “error”? Could the use of PGPs end in a debate between being politically correct and being grammatically correct?

The Campanil staff has also wondered how PGPs and other forms of gender expression will affect the journalism field — and how we should address this in our own work. The Associated Press Stylebook, which dictates terms and structural elements of journalism, currently states that the pronoun preferred by the individual should be used. However, many news sources do not follow this rule — many articles continued to refer to Chelsea Manning as “he/him” even after she came out as transgender.

The Campanil has examined how we can incorporate PGPs into our work and be respectful of diverse genders, which are ongoing questions. When is it okay to ask someone about their PGP? And how should gender identities be explained in an article? What are our responsibilities as journalists to be politically correct and how can we achieve this? The staff of The Campanil hopes these questions will someday have more solid answers so there will be increased tolerance and understanding for people of different gender identities. Until they are answered, The Campanil plans to continue practicing respect towards PGPs and gender expression and hopes that Mills — professors and students alike — as well as society as a whole, will strive to do the same.