Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. Today's prompt word is "SAFE."
I teach an online course in essay-writing at Queen's University here in Kingston. When I checked my email first thing this morning, there was the weekly electronic newsletter from the university -- and the first words that appeared at the top were "Providing a Safe Haven."
This is how the article with that headline began:
“As a university, it is our collective responsibility to do what we can to assist those in need,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “By offering a safe haven for those impacted by this policy to continue their studies or their research, we are reaffirming the values of inclusion, diversity and equality that are central to our mission as a modern institute of higher education.”
I got thinking about what I do as an instructor to make my course a safe haven -- not only for those affected by the travel policies, but for all students.
One thing I have been doing this term is revising our course policy on gendered pronouns. Up to this point, I would have told students (and instructed my TAs to tell students) that a sentence like "A student must do their work" is wrong, because "student" is singular and "their" is plural. And I would advise revisions like "A student must do his or her work" to include both sexes.
*** (here's where the 5 minutes ended, but I had a bit more to say) ***
However, times are changing. Some students do not self-identify as male or female, so they don't consider "his or her" a helpful or accurate alternative. Usage in this area is undergoing a shift in the culture in general; the university has an express policy statement on this very matter.
So I'm changing our course material to reflect this shift, and I'm encouraging students to write in a way that acknowledges it as well. I want them to know that grammar is not more important than people, and that learning to write well is more than just knowing the rules.
I realize this is a hot-button issue for a lot of people, particularly Christians. And I don't see a direct commandment in the Bible about how I should handle a situation like this. There isn't much there about grammar, usage, or noun-pronoun agreement.
But when I rewrite this material, I feel as if I'm serving my students -- treating them the way I'd want to be treated. Maybe I'm making just one student feel a little safer.