On Monday, September 24, Sexpression Edinburgh and PrideSoc hosted a collaborative panel on the topic of gender and pronouns. The panel was instigated by the recent controversy surrounding pronoun badges at University of Edinburgh Welcome Week Events, and the subsequent backlash, notably in response to an article posted by The Tab.
The panel was selected by The University of Edinburgh PrideSoc’s Sam Teale. Chosen panelists included second year Linguistics student Elliott Bryom, International Relations student Ruby Wlaschin, Edinburgh University Students’ Association Vice President Welfare, Kai O’Doherty, and PhD student Gina Roberts. The panel began with a “jargon-busting” segment, followed by structured discussions centred around the topics of pronouns and gender. The panellists engaged with the topics by drawing on their diverse academic understanding and personal experiences. The panel was conducted within the Students’ Association Safe Space Policy, which can be found on the Students’ Association website.
The catalyst for the panel was the recent poll posted on the Facebook page of the student news outlet, The Tab. In the post, it was asked whether the Students’ Association initiative to distribute optional pronoun badges during ‘Welcome Week’ events was a good idea. In the accompanying poll, uploaded 28 August 2018, 80% of the 7,200 voters selected ‘no’. Amongst many supportive comments, some users called the initiative “nonsense” and “attention seeking”. The controversy was the subject of articles in major publications including The Sun and The Telegraph.
It was amid the perceived confusion surrounding the reasoning for the Pronoun Badge scheme that the necessity for the panel was made clear. The panel discussed the misconception that pronoun signposting was either unwanted or unusual. Vice President Welfare, Kai O’Doherty, explained that preferred pronouns are increasingly being included within professors’ email sign-offs. Moreover, the panel expressed the effectiveness of including pronouns in tutorial and meeting introductions. International Relations student, Ruby Wlaschin, expressed the significance of this action to non-binary and trans students, responding “I wish people always asked what everyone’s pronouns were.” The panel went on to explain that pronoun introductions can help non-binary and trans people feel safer and more included, especially those whose gender presentation doesn’t necessarily make their gender identity clear.
In addition to instigating pronoun introductions in both academic and social spheres, the panellists suggested other steps which could be undertaken to improve the wellbeing of trans and non-binary students and staff. Administrative steps, such as stream-lining the EUCLID name alteration process are being undertaken in conjunction with the Sabbatical Officers. However, there is much administrative progress to be made. The panel encouraged audience members to continue the work already begun in the Student Union, in regards to providing gender neutral toilets, by informing Edinburgh University Students’ Association of other university buildings without these facilities.
On an individual basis, the panel also proposed actions cis allies could perform to help support their trans and non-binary peers. This included the aforementioned pronoun introduction, listening to the needs of those in the LGBT+ community, and behaving in a respectful and understanding manner. In the words of Elliott Bryom, “make your social groups and academic societies… a safe space.”
In light of the opposition to the needs of the non-binary and trans community at the University of Edinburgh, the necessity for support from both cis, non-binary and trans students alike is even more significant. The ideas proposed and conversations had at the Gender and Pronoun Panel were encouraging and inspiring to say the least, but it remains the obligation of all University of Edinburgh students to continue the work begun at this event.
For more information on LGBT+ support at the University of Edinburgh visit the Students’ Association LGBT+ liberation page.
Photo: Hajira Kamran