Higher Education

Ray Carter | January 31, 2020

University of Central Oklahoma touts pronoun option ‘to affirm gender identity’

Ray Carter

A recent email from the office of the president at the University of Central Oklahoma announced that faculty and staff will be able to include their pronouns on university business cards and name badges, but the school also stressed that use of those pronouns is not an indication of gender.

“The University of Central Oklahoma recognizes that name and gender identity are central to most individuals’ sense of self and well-being,” said the email from UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar. “Pronouns are one way to affirm someone’s gender identity. In another step toward creating a more inclusive campus community, faculty and staff now can display their personal pronouns on their university business cards and name badges, in addition to their email signatures and Central Directory profiles.”

The email explains that this “new step creates space for us to celebrate what we share in common—our humanity.”

It also informs recipients that the pronouns that can be listed include “They/Them/Theirs” and “Ze/Hir.”

The email includes a link to a university webpage that provides additional information on “personal pronoun use.” That page includes examples of what the university considers proper pronoun use, such as, “They are a writer and wrote that book themself.”

The university webpage concedes that such use “may seem grammatically incorrect”—and indeed, the example sentence provided for “they” pronouns gets flagged as an error by the spellcheck function on Microsoft Word—but higher education officials say the singular “they” has “been in widespread use for several centuries.”

“Usually, the ‘they/them/theirs’ pronouns set is acceptable to use when you don’t yet know if a person goes by another set or sets of pronouns,” the university webpage advises.

The website also advises that some people prefer “ze/zir” to “ze/hir” “because of the more consistent pronunciation and spelling.”

A university spokesperson said the listing of pronouns on university business cards is “only an option for employees, not a requirement.”

Neuhold-Ravikumar’s bio page at the university’s website does not include a specific line announcing her preferred pronouns, but the page’s text routinely refers to “she” and “her.”

The university website on personal pronoun use advises that the use of any specific set of pronouns “is not indicative of that person’s gender.”

“A person could be transgender or not transgender (also called ‘cisgender’) and might share the pronouns they go by,” the UCO website states. “A person could be a man or a woman or both or neither and share any number of these sets of pronouns as the correct ones to use for them, but which set they go by is not necessarily indicative of their gender, even though for most people there is an association between the pronouns they go by and the gender they are.”

In 2018, Allyson Fenwick, an associate professor of biology at UCO, was listed among academics who signed a public letter opposing a reported Trump administration proposal that would “legally define gender as a binary condition determined at birth, based on genitalia.”

The academics, who describe themselves as “scientists in Solidarity,” declared such a proposal “is fundamentally inconsistent” with science.

“The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood,” the letter said.

The document went on to state that “recognizing an individual’s self-identified gender, not their external genitalia or chromosomes, is the best practice for providing evidence-based, effective, and lifesaving care.”

Other listed signatories on that letter included Timothy J. O'Connell, associate professor of ecology at Oklahoma State University; Michael R. Markham, associate professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma; Stephanie N. Mullins-Sweatt, associate professor in psychology at Oklahoma State University; Jennifer Byrd-Craven, associate professor psychobiology at Oklahoma State University; Thad Leffingwell, professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University; Ingo Schlupp, professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma; Lucia Ciciolla, assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University; and Jaimie Arona Krems, assistant professor of psychological science at Oklahoma State University.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the coordinating board that oversees Oklahoma’s colleges and universities, has requested $927 million in state appropriations this year. That’s an increase of $125 million, or 15 percent, compared to the 2019 appropriation for state colleges.

The Regents 2020 legislative agenda notes that Oklahoma ranks 45th in average faculty salary and that average faculty salaries in Oklahoma colleges and universities are more than 15 percent below other states.

“Additional funding for faculty salary increases is critical to our public institutions’ efforts to competitively retain and recruit quality faculty in nursing, business, education, sciences, engineering and other high demand programs that are essential to meet Oklahoma’s workforce needs,” the Regents agenda document states.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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