The University of Michigan has implemented a “designated pronoun” policy to allow students to choose the way they want their professors to refer to them in class.
As a protest measure, one student created a new identity: “His Majesty.”
Grant Strobl, a junior at U-M and a conservative activist, inserted himself into an emotionally charged national debate over gender identity last week when he used the school’s new policy to declare himself royalty.
“When I realized that the university decided to live a fantasy of allowing students to insert words that aren’t even actual pronouns into the university online database that updates the rosters, I decided, well, I might as well be the king of that fantasy, and I henceforth shall be referred to as His Majesty,” he told Fox News last week.
“The more and more we go down this road of political correctness at these universities,” Strobl said, “the question is: When will that end? How much is the university willing to sacrifice its pursuit of truth and its mission for this fantasyland of political correctness?”
Strobl, who is studying political science, German and international studies, is the founding chairman of the university’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter, a group whose stated goal “is to provide a visible presence for the Conservative Movement, energize other students, and encourage students to speak out.”
He did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
University officials sent an email Sept. 27 to faculty members and students explaining a new process that allows students to designate personal pronouns, which will appear on class rosters. The new policy states that students may select from pronouns — such as he, she, they or ze (a gender-neutral pronoun) — or choose none at all and opt to just have their names used instead.
You can’t always know what someone’s personal pronoun is by looking at them. Correctly using someone’s designated personal pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.
When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above.)
Strobl told conservative news site CNSNews.com that when he accessed the system, it also gave him the option to “make up your own” pronoun.
So he did.
— Grant Strobl (@grantstrobl) September 28, 2016
Kim Broekhuizen, a spokeswoman for the university, told The Washington Post in an email that students proposed the pronoun policy and it was considered by a campus committee. An online petition urging the administration to put students’ personal pronouns on class rosters garnered almost 800 signatures.
“Trans students at the University of Michigan often find themselves facing threats to their mental and physical safety,” the petition said, adding that transgender students were forced to reach out to their professors to avoid being misgendered. “This can be a mentally and emotionally draining experience for individuals who constantly have to inform or correct their professors of their identity.”
After the policy was implemented, Strobl said, he joined “hundreds of students” who “changed their pronouns to protest the university policy.”
“Students have been calling me His Majesty, those that have read the story, and it really does illustrate the ridiculousness of the policy in ignoring the English language,” he told CNSNews.com. “It just creates more complexity, more difficulty for our society as a whole, and it goes against the university’s mission to pursue truth.”
In an interview with Fox affiliate WJBK he said, “We are really happy that we are spreading the absurdity of this policy.”
Strobl said some professors have sent him emails showing support. But one professor has promised to punish those who abuse the policy.
“I’ve received tons of support from all across the country and even at the university,” Strobl told Fox News. “However, I have had some students say that I am disrespectful, But that’s simply not true. I love all humans — this is not out of disrespect; I just want to restore reality.”
If you did #UMPronounChallenge b/c you thought it's fun to exploit something meant for the consideration of others, you should be ashamed
— Leslie Teng (@leslteng) September 29, 2016
The new measure at U-M comes amid a nationwide debate about gender identity and the push for greater acceptance. More than 150 U.S. colleges and universities allow students to designate a first name other than their legal name on school records, and more than 50 allow students to choose their genders without documentation of medical intervention. U-M has joined five other schools that allow students to choose the pronouns they wish to go by, according to Campus Pride, an advocacy group that compiles such data.
Vanderbilt University’s Faculty Senate Gender Inclusivity Task Force recently released a handout on gender pronouns for faculty members, encouraging them to tell colleagues and students which pronouns they use for themselves, to include them on email signatures and class syllabi and to survey students on their own pronouns.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department and the Department of Education released guidance on Title IX protections against sex-based discrimination for transgender students. Genny Beemyn, transgender policy clearinghouse coordinator for Campus Pride, told The Post that Title IX implies that colleges and universities must respect the names and pronouns that transgender students choose for themselves and, to do that, the schools must ask them what those names and pronouns are.
“The point is for students to be able to be gendered in keeping with how they identify and not have faculty members or others misgender them,” said Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center, an LGBT resource center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Beemyn is transgender and uses the pronouns “they” and “them.” “It feels like I’m being made invisible when people are not respecting who I am,” Beemyn said. “It makes me feel invalidated.”
Beemyn said policies, such as the one implemented at the University of Michigan, give transgender students an important choice. “Everyone has pronouns; it’s not just trans people,” Beemyn said. “This gives cisgender people a sense that ‘I have a certain privilege here.’ ”
Broekhuizen, the U-M spokeswoman, said the school implemented the “designated pronoun” policy to accommodate all students but will monitor the program and make any changes as needed. “But it is an important part of our efforts to be inclusive of all students, including those who do not identify as strictly male or female,” Broekhuizen said in a statement. “We’ve seen an outpouring of gratitude from these students for our recognition of their identity. It is unfortunate that some students are not taking this serious.”
Beemyn said that mocking such programs is “offensive” to transgender people. “I think it’s unfortunate,” Beemyn said about the push back. “It’s belittling the importance of this for trans people. It’s not recognizing that, for trans people, this is needed to be treated in accordance with how we identify.”
Strobl is not alone in pushing back against what he called the “fantasy land of political correctness.” Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, recently staged his own protests over gender-neutral pronouns — particularly, against Canadian legislation that intends to include gender identity and expression in prohibited forms of discrimination, according to the Toronto Sun. Last week, Peterson began releasing YouTube lectures saying that such policies violate freedom of speech.