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Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. We have all come across this saying as younger humans. We teach our kids this saying as a way to dampen the hurt felt by the words of a friend, playground bully or older sibling. The reality is that language is powerful; and, it can hurt (…even kill). Words have the ability to invite people into our communities or exile them.
As student affairs professionals, we may have attended trainings that have taught us about gender inclusive pronouns and eliminating non-inclusive terms from our vocabulary. But, many times the information that we learn is not implemented beyond a personal level. Today, let’s talk about moving beyond our own personal use of inclusive language. Let’s discuss how to implement this language on an institutional level!
Three Actions to Implement Inclusive Language at the Institutional Level
Action # 1: Revamp your institution’s communications!
Institutions of higher education send out large amounts of paper and email communications to prospective, current, and graduated students every day (not to mention their parents)! One simple way to implement the use of inclusive language at your institution is to review and most likely edit (an action you are already doing every semester) the materials that you are sending out. What should you look for when you edit these materials? Simple. Words/phrases such as “he or she” and “Miss, Mrs., and Mr.” should be eliminated and replaced with gender inclusive words and/or the person’s name.
Action #2: Eliminate gender when necessary!
Eliminating gender is a very simple act. It is the lack of education, lack of acceptance, and lack of willingness that creates a long list of hindrances. Some ways to eliminate gender at an institutional level are: (1) assign bathrooms (specifically, single stall and/or toilets) as gender-inclusive; (2) gender-inclusive residential rooms; (3) revamp professional dress policies (most contain cisgender rhetoric); (4) creating gender-inclusive policies for all student organizations and recreation leagues; and (5) only ask for students to identify their gender if you really need to know on surveys and department initiatives (and if/when you do allow them to self-identify).
Please Note: The use of a “person” of “figure” was eliminated in all of these options due to the non-inclusive nature of most signs containing them. In addition, I would use the terminology “Gender-Inclusive” rather than “Gender-Neutral” (or “bathroom”/ “restroom” works well)!
Action #3: Updating outdated titles, offices, and terms!
Language is beautiful; but, it can be frustrating due to its’ evolving nature. Institutions must be willing to assess departments and position titles to ensure they are up-to-date and congruent with expectations. In addition, an institution must ensure that the terminology they are using to describe the communities they serve are acceptable to those communities.
What are some other actions you have utilized to ensure that you have moved beyond the personal use of inclusive language? How has your institution ensured its implementation of inclusive language?