Rachel Grate
January 30, 2015 12:15 pm

One graduate school just took a stand against superfluous gendered greetings. Professors and staff at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate Center must now address students by their first names, rather than “Mr.” or “Ms.”

The College Fix first reported on the memo sent on January 16th to CUNY staffers. It outlined an effort to “eliminate use of gendered salutations and references” when talking to students, prospective students, or third parties. The regulation is designed to “ensure a respectful, welcoming, and gender-inclusive learning environment” that accommodates and encourages diversity.

The statement describes the effort as motivated by Title IX (which bans gender discrimination), and has sparked debate as to if Title IX applies in this way. But what most people arguing over the new rule don’t seem to recognize is that it’s the result of years of effort to support gender nonconforming students.

Dominique Nisperos, co-chair of the Doctoral Students’ Council at CUNY, told The Daily Beast that this change “is a necessary step toward protecting the rights, privacy, and safety of students,” especially those who are gender nonconforming. This is just one of several efforts they are leading, including calling upon their administration to construct gender-neutral bathrooms.

“You can imagine from the perspective of a gender nonconforming student,” Nisperos says. “You’re presenting a different gender than is associated usually with the sex you were born into. And you live in that gender. So, for example, if I as a woman, existing in the world as a woman, receive a piece of mail that says “Mr.,” you can imagine what the ramifications of that could be.”

While these micro-aggressions may not seem significant for everyone, they are subtle forms of discrimination that can have a major effect on those trying to feel comfortable at their school. And the benefits of the new rule apply to women as well.

For years, gender-based stereotypes have haunted women at university’s across the country, especially clichés of the famed “Mrs. Degree.” At the graduate level, this rule won’t just avoid unnecessarily announcing someone’s gender each time they’re called on, it will also prevent the awkward divisions that may occur when some women in the class are “Mrs.” and others are “Ms.”— a distinction that men don’t have to deal with.

The bottom line: If this new rule saves anyone from feeling unfairly defined by their gender or marital status every time they raise their hand or email a professor, it’s a step in the right direction.

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