Professors at the University of Arizona may soon be asking students about their preferred gender pronouns and crafting a syllabus that includes warnings for possibly traumatizing content.
The University of Arizona’s faculty senate on Monday explored establishing guidelines for professors to be more sensitive to marginalized students, including LGBTQ students and those who have experienced trauma.
The recommendations come as a result of discussions facilitated by the diversity task force, which UA President Ann Weaver Hart created last year as a response to student activism.
Groups of marginalized students and their supporters reported racism and homophobia on campus, and they subsequently released a demand letter asking for a range of changes, including diversifying the UA’s faculty and staff and providing cultural competency training.
“It’s about creating a more welcome climate in the classroom,” said Jesús Treviño, the UA’s senior diversity officer and vice provost for inclusive excellence, who was hired in May to address diversity on campus.
The task force has eight subcommittees, including the classroom experience subcommittee that produced the two recommendations on gender pronouns and content warnings. Each subcommittee is intended to tackle issues raised in the students’ demand letter.
The general consensus from the faculty senate was to pursue fine-tuning the language for the pronoun and content warning recommendations for campuswide guidelines. The faculty group will re-evaluate in the future whether or not those guidelines should be elevated to mandated policy.
Some faculty senators voiced concerns mostly about the guidelines’ impact on academic freedom. Roy Spece, a law professor, said at the meeting that while he’s sympathetic to students’ concerns, there doesn’t need to be restrictions on professors’ speech when the issue is a moral one.
It could start the university down a “slippery slope,” he said. “We need to respect people’s rights to say things we don’t like.”
Treviño, the senior diversity officer, said in an interview that the message is not “do not present the information in the classroom.” Instead, faculty should simply let students know, through syllabus or other means, what would be discussed throughout the semester.
But where does the university draw the line? “Common sense,” he said. The boundaries are something the university and its members would have to continue to discuss, but the best gauge right now is to consider what is an obvious trigger for trauma, such as sexual violence.
Some discomfort is part of the learning process, he said. “But we don’t want to push them over the learning edge.”
In the end, the guidelines to ask students about their preferred gender pronouns and giving advanced notice on possibly triggering content are “not unlike a whole bunch of things that already exist in your contracts,” faculty senate Chair Lynn Nadel told his fellow senators at the meeting.
“If you look at the university handbook, you will find a variety of things you’re required to do,” he said. “That’s not news. This is appropriate behavior. It’s simply adding things to an already long list of things faculty members are expected to do as part of their employment.”
Shevonda Joyner, a UA junior and an intern for the diversity task force, said she would like to see the guidelines implemented as quickly as possible. When the professors show “an actual understanding of students,” they feel comfortable and safe in the classroom, which is the state of mind they need to be in to learn.