PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Point Park University has found itself in the middle of a national dispute over pronouns.
As KDKA political editor Jon Delano reports, a memo that university officials sent to community members has stirred up a debate over gender.
An email memo from Point Park's Office of Equity and Inclusion was supposed to be the annual reminder of non-discrimination policies. But a paragraph on misgendering and pronoun misuse is getting national attention.
When should you use the pronouns, he/him or she/her? UCLA's Wilson Institute estimates just under 1/2 of 1% of us are nonbinary, meaning neither male nor female or identify with a gender not assigned at birth.
"If someone wants to be called by certain pronouns, I think you should be able to respect that," says Ashley Castelli, a Point Park student from Canonsburg.
In its memo on misgendering, Point Park warned students if they used the wrong pronouns on a student, there could be consequences.
"We must recognize that regardless of intent, if an individual is impacted in a harmful way, action could be taken if a complaint is filed," noted the memo.
"I don't think you should be punished for that because you didn't know beforehand," says Jenna Tarson, a Point Park student from the South Hills. "But I think if you are harassing somebody because you purposely don't want to use their correct pronouns, I think action should be taken."
The memo linked to a Language Guide that suggests, when in doubt, replace mother and father with parents, or brothers and sisters with siblings. And don't use "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am" that most of us were taught was the proper way to show respect.
"Sounds like they're making people walk on eggshells and restrain the way they're accustomed to speaking out of constant fear of offending somebody," says attorney Greg Teufel, who has been involved in gender-based lawsuits.
Teufel is not surprised the story has gone national.
Logan Dubil, the Point Park junior who wrote about the issue for a conservative watchdog group, says he is already the subject of a petition to remove him from school.
Says Teufel about that: "The way to combat speech you don't like is not to kick somebody out of the university, but if you're right, express your view and that will win the debate."
No one from Point Park's administration would appear on camera to answer questions about this memo, but a spokesperson told KDKA that its policies have been in place since 2014 and discipline was for intentional misgendering on a case by case basis.
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