#UMPronounChallenge sparks social media controversy

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 7:18pm

In response to the University of Michigan’s new class roster pronoun policy, some students have customized their pronouns in a manner misaligned with the policy’s intent, sparking controversy on social media.

The policy allows students to designate pronouns in a new Gender Identity tab within the Campus Personal Information section of Wolverine Access. Along with several set pronouns, the dropdown menu features an “enter your own” category.

An email sent Tuesday to campus students and faculty from University Provost Martha E. Pollack and E. Royster Harper, the vice president for student life, said the goal of the policy was to promote inclusion.

“The University of Michigan is committed to fostering an environment of inclusiveness,” they wrote. “Consistent with this value, the University has created a process for students to designate pronouns with the University and have those pronouns reflected on class rosters this fall.”

The email also said professors will be asked to re-check their class rosters at the end of October and use the pronouns indicated by students.

However, several students on campus have changed their pronouns to a variety of titles intended to spark ridicule of the policy.

LSA junior Grant Strobl, national chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom board of governors, began the criticism when he changed his pronoun to “His Majesty.”

Strobl announced this undertaking Wednesday via Twitter, encouraging others to do the same.


In an interview, Strobl said the push was Young Americans for Freedom’s new hashtag campaign. He said the University policy complicates reality and allows for an unnecessary ambiguity.

“The new policy ignores reality,” he said. “The purpose of pronouns is to simplify the English language, not add more complexity. The idea that anybody can insert an ambiguous title, pronoun, that isn’t a pronoun into the University system, and then professors potentially facing sanctions is absolutely absurd.”

Several others responded in support of Strobl's challenge, changing their pronouns to titles such as ‘Her Royal Highness’.



However, many others used social media to condemn the campaign.



School of Information Prof. Kristin Fontichiaro sent an email to the Information School community in response to the campaign, citing it as an example of how technology is not always used in the way it was intended.

"It reminds me of how complicated UMSI's people-information-technology triad can be and how difficult it can be for well-intended leaders such as our campus administration to anticipate how a well-intended system can be thwarted by folks," Fontichiaro wrote in the email.

She added, however, that she would not utilize titles as pronouns in her classroom.

"One final thing ... should any #umpronounchallenge fans be on this list, please be advised that I do not plan to use 'Your Majesty' or 'Professor' as pronouns in my classroom,” she wrote. “Call me an old-fashioned former English teacher, but titles are not pronouns."