At the start of the academic year, Columbia introduced a new Gender Inclusive Initiative to make the college a more welcoming community to all of its students.
As reported Sept. 14 by The Chronicle, the initiative came through efforts put forth by the LGBTQ Office of Culture & Community, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and student-group Common Ground, and is aimed at increasing educational resources about diverse gender identities, raising preferred pronoun awareness and boosting the number of on-campus gender-neutral bathrooms Columbia offers.
The initiative itself should be a priority at Columbia, but faculty were not officially made aware of the expectations of them until Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, sent out an email on Oct. 23 addressing the “new” initiative.
Some sources said the announcement to faculty was meant to go out at the beginning of the semester, which would have made sense considering faculty cannot be expected to help implement such an initiative without knowing about it and also making sure they are educated on the subject matter themselves.
If the Gender Inclusive Initiative is to be a priority at Columbia, the announcement of its existence should not have been sent out nearly two months after the start of the school year.
Alerting faculty of the initiative so long after the semester has begun does little to benefit those professors who interact on a daily basis with students who identify outside the gender binary, some of whom have spoken out about being misgendered.
Not only does the delayed message reflect an administration that is either disorganized or uninvolved in the implementation of this initiative, but the email that was sent out also leaves many questions unanswered and calls for several clarifications.
Kelly’s email said faculty and staff are all expected to respect the parameters of the initiative and use students’ preferred pronouns but fails to provide clear guidelines on how to do that.
Instructing professors to respect and use different pronouns according to how their students identify is a huge first step, but professors need to know exactly what is expected of them to effectively implement the initiative.
Some professors are still learning about gender identity, and the college should have provided informational sessions to help educate faculty on pronoun use and the different ways in which students might identify prior to the start of the school year. This would decrease the likelihood of misgendering and offending students who came to Columbia for its tolerant atmosphere but have yet to experience it.
The announcement of the initiative fails to address many faculty and student concerns, such as whether faculty are expected to implement the initiative into their curricula, if they should erase gendered pronouns from their language altogether and what to do when students do not self-identify what their pronouns are.
Because Columbia is home to students, staff, faculty and administrators of diverse backgrounds and varying age groups, it is understandable that not every member of the college community will immediately understand pronouns that are new to them or why those pronouns should be honored, but it falls on the college to ensure education takes place so students’ concerns on the topic do not fall on deaf ears.
Some of the nation’s top universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard, have already implemented similar initiatives, but there’s no reason Columbia shouldn’t a be leading college in the effort to make all campuses more inviting to LGBT students.