Oxford University Students Union has denied students are being told to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” rather than “he” or “she”.
According to The Sunday Times, the student union had outlined the move in a leaflet, and highlighted the gender-neutral alternative term in its story.
It was followed-up by other media, including The Huffington Post UK.
In a statement, Oxford University Students Union (OUSU) said it was “incorrect” to suggest students “must use ‘ze’ pronouns to refer to others, or indeed to themselves”.
OUSU went on to make clear it respected preferred pronouns, but no-one would be forced to do anything.
“We would like to highlight that our support for trans students includes respecting neopronouns and non-binary identities.
“We would also like to clearly state that we would never tell anyone to use ‘ze’ pronouns instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ if ‘he’ or ‘she’ is the pronoun someone wishes to use.
“That would be misgendering and would likely have the biggest impact on individuals (ie, some trans students) who may already be struggling to get people to use ‘he’ or ‘she’ for them. It would be totally counterproductive.”
The Sunday Times report stems in part from an OUSU policy document published in June stating speakers in meetings should identify their preferred pronoun and their name - but there is no mention of “ze”.
In its statement, OUSU said this was for accessibility and minuting purposes.
OUSU also said the story may have referred to support materials used by student leaders and welfare representatives reminding people of “the importance of not assuming the pronouns of their peers”.
OUSU added there could be confusion with the wider university’s trans guidance which “does include a mention of neopronouns (pronoun sets like ‘ze/hir’, ‘ey/em/eirs’)”.
“Requesting that people state their pronouns, and do not assume the pronouns of others, is not particularly radical or controversial. It’s a standard practice, not just in Oxford but in student communities and LGBTQ-friendly spaces all over, and we encourage its spread.”
It comes as higher education across the world is widening its policies to acknowledge transgender students and those who don’t identify as male or female.
In the US, the gender-neutral alternatives of “ze” and “hir” have been used for more than a decade at Wesleyan University. The American University lists acceptable alternative pronouns to also include “E”, “Ey” or “Per”.
At registration, Harvard University students are now allowed to indicate which pronouns they use - with suggested gender-neutral options such as “ze” or “they”.
Article: was updated to reflect Oxford University Student Union’s statement.