The guide on pronouns is reportedly the work of students associated with the office and states that “choosing to ignore or disrespect someone’s pronouns is not only an act of oppression but can also be considered an act of violence.”
It is a familiar position for many in higher education. Opposing viewpoints are now routinely declared to be violence. That allows professors and students to rationalize their own act of violence or censorship.
The most vivid example was recently seen at Hunter College, which is part of the CUNY system. Professor Shellyne Rodríguez recently was fired after holding a machete to the neck of a New York Post reporter and threatening to “chop you up.” However, Hunter College decided not to fire her over a prior incident in which she trashed a pro-life table run by students.
Rodríguez spotted students with pro-life material at the college. She was captured on a videotape telling the students that “you’re not educating s–t […] This is f–king propaganda. What are you going to do, like, anti-trans next? This is bulls–t. This is violent. You’re triggering my students.” Even after a remarkably polite student said that he was “sorry,” Rodríguez would have nothing of it. After all, espousing pro-life views is now “violence.” Rodríguez rejected the apology and declared “No you’re not — because you can’t even have a f–king baby. So you don’t even know what that is. Get this s–t the f–k out of here.”
Just a week earlier, a professor stopped another “violent” display of pro-life views in New York. Professor Renee Overdyke of the State University of New York at Albany shut down a pro-life display and then resisted arrest.
At the University of California at Santa Barbara, feminist studies associate professor Mireille Miller Young criminally assaulted pro-life advocates on campus, and later pleaded guilty to the crime. She was defended by faculty and students, including many who said she was “triggered” by a pro-life display and that pro-life advocates were “terrorists” who did not deserve free speech.
It is that easy. You simply declare opposing views “violent” and then you can justify your own violence as a matter of self-defense.
The Colorado controversy does not involve acts of violence over misgendering. Moreover, the guide reflects a deep-felt concern that using someone’s pronouns incorrectly, even unintentionally, leads to “dysphoria, exclusion and alienation.” There are also some positive recommendations in dealing with these difficult situations.
However, this is a university site and there are countervailing free speech costs to characterizing opposing views on pronouns as violence. We have previously discussed how other countries are prosecuting those who “misgender.” Schools in the United States have promised disciplinary action against any misgendering despite some court cases ruling for faculty with opposing views on pronouns. Even passing out “he/his” candies can result in a university investigation.
Conservative sites like Campus Reform have reported on the Colorado controversy and sought clarification.
Universities are often presented with difficult countervailing interests. On one hand, it must maintain a welcoming and tolerant environment. On the other hand, it must protect free speech values, including the right to express unpopular views or values.
Colorado students have every right to declare misgendering as violence in their eyes, even if many of us disagree. However, the university has an obligation to clearly establish that such views are not the policy or approach of the university itself. The site states “This information was created by students, for students. The university supports an inclusive environment.” It should state that “while the university supports an inclusive environment, the statements on this site are not official statements or policies of the university.” Otherwise, the university should address the free speech implications of declaring misgendering as a violent act.