Steven Hayward, The University of Colorado-Boulder’s first Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, has worked to ingratiate himself with his students and faculty colleagues. By “ingratiate,” I mean he wrote an assy blog post for the
noted conservative policy journal non peer-reviewed blog Powerline called “Off on a Gender Bender,” in which he complained about and ridiculed some diversity training in which professors were instructed to ask students which pronouns they prefer:
I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name . . . , let alone turn up in class in wardrobe by Corporal Klinger. My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.
So why is this gender-bending diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days? The most likely explanation is that it (sic) is simply yielding to the demands of the folks who dislike any constraint of human nature in what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) “community.” I place “community” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender-bending is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.
Did Professor Hayward ever participate in a study abroad program, or take an anthropology class? Has he never been introduced to the concept of observing politely the customs of the locals before insulting and belittling them?
Hayward’s blog post and nuggets of wisdom have earned him criticism both from student government leaders and the Boulder Faculty Assembly. (Memo to the Denver Post: this is not an infringement of his rights to free speech. Being criticized by others is simply the consequence of free speech. Neither student government nor Faculty Assembly has called for any consequences other than that he should be told that his comments were “oppressive and discriminatory” and possibly “hate speech.”)
Now, I’m all for mocking and ridiculing the stupid training seminars and events that new faculty are required to attend, most of which are pretty useless in our everyday lives. However, I can say that they’re usually an adequate introduction to the culture of your new institution. That seems worthy of heeding, especially if one is a visiting scholar being honored by a special appointment. That’s just basic human decency and good manners. Who knows? You might even have made some interesting new friends and allies there, unless you’re determined to self-marginalize (“I’m sure I was among the only—if not the only—conservative in the room of roughly 100 new faculty. . . )
Furthermore, the notion that asking students which pronouns they prefer is hardly a violation of natural law. I’m sure we all have our opinions about our students, but calling students by the names and pronouns they prefer is once again just basic human decency and good manners, just the way that it’s good manners when students either ask professors how they would prefer to be addressed. (Behind our backs, I’m sure they call us lots of things they try not to call us in class, so they’ve got their opinions too.) No one is asking you to approve of or endorse any student’s morality, sobriety, grade point average, or work-study job choice unless the student asks you for your opinion. Hayward’s attitude is very right wing in that apparently he thinks he’s the boss of his students’ gender identity because it’s such an offense to him to have to yield to their preferences–not a very conservative position, by my lights.
Since Hayward asked about how many trans students we have met in our classes, I can report that I’ve had two trans students in my classes in the past two years, and they’ve never “demanded” anything of me. In fact, I had to instruct one young man that he didn’t have to submit his papers under the name “Linda” any longer, because I knew he used the name Nick. (I have changed his names here to preserve his anonymity.) It made me incredibly sad to know that Nick was probably being reasonably cautious and deferential, perhaps because he had been rudely rebuked by a proffie who had embarrassed him or called attention to the fact that his student number was attached to a female name.
Let’s try to re-write this Konservative Krusader’s nasty paragraph to make his conservative points without indulging in ad hominem attacks on imaginary queer university folk and phantom militant trans activists. Here’s my attempt:
I’m more curious to learn whether there have been many students—or any students, ever—who have demanded to be addressed in class by a different gender pronoun, or called by a different gender name. My guess is the actual number of such students approaches zero.
So why is this diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days? The most likely explanation is that they are simply yielding to the demands of their “communities.” I place “communities” in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender ambiguity is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.
There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? (Of course, as a historian, I don’t believe in “human nature.” In fact, any sentence that includes “human nature” sets off my B.S. detectors as likely ideological agitprop, but wev. I’m all about diversity, aren’t I?) As your mother used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’d amend that to say, “if you can’t say anything without alienating a significant portion of the community you’ve chosen to align yourself with, STFU.” Or, put more succinctly, “You kiss your mother with that mouth?“
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