Campus Free Speech

Sarah Lawrence College Would Rather People Use Gender Neutral Language Than Follow Grammar Rules

And stop saying "avowed, admitted, or acknowledged" for some reason.


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A set of guidelines published by Sarah Lawrence College requires staff—and encourages students—to stop using gender-specific pronouns, even when they represent the most obvious and grammatically correct way of expressing an idea.

"In an effort to avoid gendered language in this document, Sarah Lawrence College has chosen to make exception to select grammatical rules (i.e. pronoun agreement)," the guidelines state.

Administrators actually encourage people to copy and paste the above disclaimer into any document where they have violated the rules of the English language in order to comply with college guidance:

"When absolutely unavoidable, use plural non-gendered pronouns (they, them, their) to replace singular gendered pronouns (he, she, him, her). While this is grammatically incorrect, we can acknowledge the exception in the note recommended above."

Since pronouns are problematic, the guidelines recommend avoiding their use entirely. Sarah Lawrence College proposes philosophical modifications to the English language that would obsolete pronouns, like this: "Avoid conditional sentences introduced by if or when, which often require the use of pronouns."

If an administrator would like to eliminate ambiguity because singular pronouns offend some people, they should prepare themselves for confusion.

The guidelines also prohibit gendered language—mankind, manpower, middleman, chairman, etc.—even though these words are commonly understood to refer to women as well as men. Fatherhood, motherhood, and brotherhood are verboten as well.

And then there are the suggestions relating to sex and orientation:

Be sensitive about language referring to sexual orientation (not sexual preference).

  • Avoid heterosexual references, and avoid using the word homosexual.

  • Use the more inclusive LGBTQ community as appropriate.

  • When necessary, use lesbian, gay man, bisexual, transgender, queer.

  • Use transgender, not transgendered.

  • Do not use adjectives such as acknowledged, admitted, or avowed.

  • Do not use the term sex to mean gender, or the term opposite sex, which polarizes gender.

Emphasis mine. I surmise that administrators do not wish to see the phrase "avowed homosexual," which is quite ugly. But there are situations where these adjectives are warranted. For example: The college administrator, an avowed enemy of problematic pronouns, commenced his (gasp!) war on the English language.

Campus Reform asked Sarah Lawrence for additional clarification, but received no response.

The college is well-within its rights to require administrators to tie their tongues in knots. But it's difficult to abolish commonly use phrases and constructions, especially when they are more elegant or efficient than the clunky remedies suggested by the problem-izers. (Problemators? Problematons? I'm open to suggestions.)