Editorial: Developing pronoun policy needs to be enforceable and fair

Erupting protests show that a policy change can create a welcoming campus environment, if implemented correctly.

Daily Editorial Board

An act of inclusiveness by the University of Minnesota has become one of the most controversial topics on campus. The University’s proposed gender expression policy would allow students to select their personal pronouns for use on campus. Though the University is correct in allowing students to identify their gender, it’s only one of many steps that need to be taken to create a safe and welcoming campus.

The proposed gender expression policy, which has been a work in progress for over a year, would require University members to use the name, gender identity and pronouns that a student identifies with. The policy hopes to reduce misgendering. Furthermore, the policy gives University members access to facilities that match their gender identities, such as housing and restrooms.

While accidental misgendering will occur, it may be challenging to decipher what is accidental versus what is a genuine act of policy violation — a potential infringement on free speech rights.

Although the policy is still being drafted, it has already caused controversy on campus. For the third year in a row, the University of Minnesota’s College Republicans had its panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge vandalized. This year, “Queer Power” was spray painted on it, after the original panel specifically ridiculed the policy with phrases such as “Make the U Great again” and “The proposed pronoun policy mocks real social issues.”

Following the controversy, demonstrators marched across campus in support of transgender students and a student organizer of the march released a petition calling out the University for protecting hate speech.

Although this is a clear first step in promoting the welfare of transgender students, more can be done by the University. For example, while the University provides nearly 300 gender-neutral restrooms and a map that shows them all, there should be at least two gender-neutral restrooms in each building. Moreover, the University needs to address speech that is directly aimed at harming transgender community members.

Though there is clear contention surrounding the proposed gender expression policy, the University needs to evaluate a concrete way of punishing those who engage in volatile, hateful rhetoric. The protest on the Washington Avenue Bridge is only evidence that transgender students do not feel welcome on campus, following rhetoric displayed by federal authorities and other student groups on campus.

The University should condemn those who engage in harmful speech. We hope that by the time the pronoun policy becomes enforceable next fall, the University will have a concrete standard of evaluation. Hopefully by then, both critics and supporters of the policy change will see a standard and fair process in which we can make our campus a friendlier and more inclusive environment for every single student.