Manners, Courtesy, and Other Tools of Oppression

In my classrooms, I uniformly use the practice of the University of Chicago’s old graduate programs, in which I address students as “Mr. Jones” or “Ms. Smith.” It introduces a modicum of formality and respect, which counterbalances the more casual, conversational, and indeed often stream-of-consciousness style of my classes. (I hate straight-up lecturing; likewise I dislike the presumptuous faux-familiarity implied by the easy use of first names.) My sense is that students like it, especially when they are surprised to find out I have memorized their last names and call on them by name when they raise their hand: “Yes, Mr. Smith up in the back row?”

Well guess what? At the SUNY schools, Mr. and Ms. are officially out:

“Mr.,” “Mrs.” and “Ms.” are being shown the door at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

In a new policy that has sparked debate among academics, school staffers have been advised to refrain from using gendered salutations in correspondence with students—and instead use a student’s full name, according to an internal memo sent out earlier this month.

You can guess where this is coming from:

Some people said the policy showed sensitivity to students who identify as transgender.

Gendered salutations represent “an outdated and unnecessary formality [that] serves no purpose other than to label and risk misrepresentation,” said Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Pride Agenda, an advocacy group for gay and transgender people. “We’re hopeful this gesture will inspire others…to follow in CUNY’s innovative footsteps.”

Why isn’t there (yet) an in-between third salutation for trans-persons? How about “Mst”? I’m rather amazed at the shortfall of imagination here. In any case, you’ll have to pry “Mr. and Ms.” out of my cold dead hands. . .

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