While editing articles for The Michigan Daily, I’ll often question why a rule exists. For example, I might wonder why we don’t use the Oxford comma or why “percent” is spelled out. While these little rules are aggravating at times, I’ll always move on and continue editing the article. If I let my frustration toward the silly rule consume me, I would waste time and never get my job done. I remember a similar reaction in high school when I was first learning MLA style. The format seemed arbitrary, but I knew that I needed to learn MLA to succeed in my classes. In short, having to follow a certain guideline can sometimes suck, but it’s easier to learn the rules and follow them than is to ruminate on them.
A couple of weeks ago, LSA junior Marisa Frey wrote her “Copy That” column on how we all have our own guidelines for how we behave and interact with others. Keeping this column in mind over the past few weeks, I couldn’t help but link it with the campus-wide focus on personal pronouns. Essentially, the addition of personal pronouns to class rosters is a new part of the teacher’s style guides. I’m not saying this to downplay the importance of this addition. I believe it took too long for the administration to realize the necessity of including pronouns on class rosters. The pronouns are another way that professors can ensure the comfort of all of their students. Being misidentified is an unnecessary distraction from a student’s education.
If hundreds of thousands of high school and college students across the country can all use different formats for their essays and presentations, then why is keeping personal pronouns in mind while addressing students so radical? To some students, the idea seems so ridiculous that they’ve responded by mocking it with #UMPronounChallenge, a hashtag started by LSA junior Grant Strobl, national chair of the Young Americans for Freedom. Some students mocked the new pronoun policy by adding “Princess” or “King” to their names. Others responded to the hashtag with frustrated tweets about why the #UMPronounChallenge was harmful.
Aside from the fact that calling this a “pronoun challenge” displayed that Strobl didn’t understand basic English grammar, the creation of the hashtag blatantly ignored the call for a more inclusive campus.
LSA senior Kyle Stefek responded with a comment on Strobl’s Facebook post regarding the addition of “His Majesty” to his roster.
“I think the only flaw you’ve found in the University’s system is that they didn’t account for students who … feel the need to mock their trans/non-binary peers,” Stefek wrote. “The fact that you think this is cause for mockery rather than celebration makes it clear you don’t really understand your privilege here — pronouns aren’t arbitrary for everyone.”
In the end, all Strobl’s response did — in addition to cultivating the prejudices faced by transgender and non-binary students every day — was create a deeper divide between students who supported the addition of pronouns to rosters and students who thought that it was unnecessary.
If I started a hashtag every time the Daily had a guideline that I didn’t agree with, I would never get anything done here. To respond with such mockery of the new guideline — which is meant to make the University of Michigan a more comfortable place for transgender and non-binary students — shows an ignorance and an inability to adapt to a society that has a constantly changing “Stylebook.”