University woke language row over advice to refer to people as 'they'

University sparks language row as it advises students to refer to each other as ‘they’ until the person reveals their preferred pronouns to create ‘culture of inclusion’

  • Kent University advises students and staff to use ‘they’ if pronouns are unknown
  • Uni criticised last week for discouraging words ‘surname’ and ‘Christian name’

A university has sparked a language row for advising students and staff to call everyone ‘they’ until their preferred pronouns are confirmed.

The University of Kent offers the guidance on pronouns to its students and staff, saying it will help them create an ‘authentic culture of inclusion’ at the institution.

The three-page pronoun guidance can be found on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity section of the university’s website.

Students are encouraged to share their pronouns – whatever their gender – as only asking people within trans or non-binary communities could mark them out as different.

The university suggests staff and students state their pronouns when they introduce themselves to others for the first time in meetings.

The University of Kent (pictured) is advising students and staff to call everyone as ‘they’ until the person they are talking to has confirmed their preferred pronouns

A section from Kent University’s guidance which advises on how to ask about pronouns

And if they don’t get a chance to ask someone’s pronouns, the guidance encourages people to ‘use the non-gendered ‘they’ until you are sure’.

READ MORE: Woke University of Kent comes under fire for telling students not to say ‘Christian name’ or ‘surname’ because the terms are ‘offensive’

It comes after the University of Kent came under fire last week for claiming using the words ‘surname’ and ‘Christian name’ could be deemed offensive – as ‘surname’ is ‘patriarchal’ and ‘Christian name’ excludes non-Christians.

In their staff and student guidance on pronouns, the university said: ‘Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is respectful and preserves human dignity.

‘Together, we can work to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities and create an inclusive culture at the University of Kent.

‘Normalising sharing pronouns is important so that not only trans, nonbinary and/or intersex people are expected to share their pronouns.

‘If only people perceived to be members of these communities are asked to share their pronouns, this can mark them out as ‘other’.

‘It is good practice for all of us to normalise sharing our pronouns, rather than expecting that people will assume them correctly (even if they do).’

The guidance is optional but the university also encourages staff and students to add their pronouns to their digital profile.

This includes their email signature, Teams’ profile name and other communications platforms.

Toby Young, the founder and director of the Free Speech Union, said: ‘The problem with demanding that all staff and students declare their pronouns and, presumably, use each other’s preferred pronouns, is that it requires some of them – gender critical feminists, orthodox Christians – to affirm something they don’t believe to be true, i.e., that it’s possible for a person to change sex.’

Toby Young (pictured), founder and director of the Free Speech Union, criticised the guidance

The university adds that while mistakes do happen, students and staff should quickly apologise and try not to draw attention to the mistake.

And they encourage their members to be ‘active bystanders’ – by gently reminding people of someone’s pronouns even when they are not in the room.

They say that while some pronouns may be unfamiliar, all are linguistically valid.

And they include a link to an extensive list of gender-neutral pronouns – including Xe/xem, Fae/faer and Ne/nem.

A University of Kent spokesperson said: ‘Kent is committed to the creation and support of a balanced, inclusive and diverse community.

‘While we don’t instruct our students or staff on use of pronouns in communication – written or verbal – we do offer guidance, explanations and encouragement on how to use them.

‘Staff and students are encouraged to share their pronouns – either on emails or in meetings.

‘This is to help normalise the practice and make others feel comfortable.

‘However, this is just part of our wider EDI strategy which helps staff and students feel confident to play their part in creating an inclusive community at Kent.

‘These are guidelines not policies and are there as a useful resource and support tool. However, the wellbeing of our staff and students is important to us and any complaint regarding race, gender, religion, or sexuality is taken seriously.’

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