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University librarians wear ‘preferred gender pronoun’ pins to make students feel safe

‘Misgendering’ someone can ‘invalidate’ their identity

The University of Kansas Libraries are all about social justice.

Their home page prominently displays an icon for “Social Justice Resources,” a page created in cooperation with the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Students can learn about “privilege,” intersectionality and “The Unequal Opportunity Race” from the page.

They hosted a “Standing Rock Teach-In” on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests against the construction of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Now the libraries’ own employees can show their commitment to diversity on the job by wearing “preferred gender pronoun” pins.

Created as part of the libraries’ “You Belong Here” marketing campaign, the pins are also being made available to students who request them.

They come in three types: “She/Her/Hers,” “He/Him/His” and “They/Them/Theirs,” for students who are transgender or non-binary, Lawrence Journal-World reported last week.

The pin campaign reminds library patrons that “gender is, itself, fluid and up to the individual,” according to a posted sign at the libraries.

It is threatening to assume that a person who looks male or female wants to be greeted as such, according to the sign.

“Each person has the right to identify their own pronouns, and we encourage you to ask before assuming someone’s gender. Pronouns matter! Misgendering someone can have lasting consequences, and using the incorrect pronoun can be hurtful, disrespectful, and invalidate someone’s identity.”

In addition to pronoun pins, the campaign also features laminated banners around the libraries saying “You Belong Here” with the KU logo on them. Signs also include the location of “gender inclusive” restrooms, two of which are “multi-stall gender-neutral” restrooms.

Just as libraries oppose the banning of books, Dean of Libraries Kevin Smith told the Journal-World, their commitment to “support the voices of marginalized people is part and parcel to the libraries’ commitment to the values of the First Amendment.”

Unlike the Social Justice Resources page and the Standing Rock Teach-In, however, the libraries website does not appear to mention the pins.

Employees are not being forced to wear the pins. The Office of Multicultural Affairs helped craft the language “to advertise that the libraries are inclusive spaces,” the Journal-World said.

Recommended reading: ‘The White Problem’

The Social Justice Resources page boasts of “information and resources for anyone interested in learning about social justice.”

One post reads: “Privileges are unearned, unasked for, often invisible benefits and advantages not available to members of minoritized groups. Rather, these advantages are socially constructed to benefit members of dominant groups.”

According to another: “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs.”

The libraries also recommend a number of social justice-oriented articles to students. These include “The Anatomy of White Guilt,” “What Should White People Do?” and, without any disclaimer of satire, “The White Problem.”

Associate Librarian Tami Albin, the contact staffer for the guide, did not respond to a College Fix request for comment. Neither did the university’s media relations department.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs offers a number of social justice-themed events during the year as well.

One is the “Tunnel of Oppression,” an interactive experience in which students can experience “different forms of oppression through interactive acting, viewing monologues, and multimedia.”

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About the Author
Toni Airaksinen -- Barnard College