Xe/Xem and ze/hir: Pronouns university says staff can call students

Xe/xem, ze/hir and fae/faer: The gender-neutral pronouns University of Kent insists are ‘all linguistically valid’ in its guide for staff and students

  • Kent University advises students and staff to use ‘they’ if pronouns are unknown
  • Uni criticised last week for discouraging words ‘surname’ and ‘Christian name’

A university at the centre of a 21st-Century language row after telling students and staff to call everyone ‘they’ has insisted other pronouns like ‘xe/zem’, ‘fae/faer’ and ‘ze/hir’ are just as ‘valid’.

The University of Kent produced a three-page guide on gender-neutral pronouns that people can be called by until their ‘preferred pronouns’ are confirmed.

Chiefs at the institution said it would create an ‘authentic culture of inclusion’, but the move has been slammed by free speech campaigners. 

Kent’s guidance is found on its Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity section of its website, which links to a non-binary Wiki page. 

Although the university’s advice does not explicitly mention all the potential pronouns from the Wiki site, it does say: ‘Many gender-neutral pronouns are becoming increasingly common. This includes the use of the singular “they” or “ze”… While some may feel unfamiliar to you, they are all linguistically valid.’  

The University of Kent (pictured) is advising students and staff to call everyone as ‘they’ until the person they are talking to has confirmed their preferred pronouns

A section from the University of Kent’s guidance which advises on how to ask about pronouns

Students are encouraged to share their pronouns – whatever their gender – as only asking people within trans or non-binary communities could mark them out as different.

The university suggests staff and students state their pronouns when they introduce themselves to others for the first time in meetings.

And if they don’t get a chance to ask someone’s pronouns, the guidance encourages people to ‘use the non-gendered “they” until you are sure’.

READ MORE: Woke University of Kent comes under fire for telling students not to say ‘Christian name’ or ‘surname’ because the terms are ‘offensive’

It comes after the University of Kent came under fire last week for claiming using the words ‘surname’ and ‘Christian name’ could be deemed offensive – as ‘surname’ is ‘patriarchal’ and ‘Christian name’ excludes non-Christians.

In their staff and student guidance on pronouns, the university said: ‘Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is respectful and preserves human dignity.

‘Together, we can work to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities and create an inclusive culture at the University of Kent.

‘Normalising sharing pronouns is important so that not only trans, nonbinary and/or intersex people are expected to share their pronouns.

‘If only people perceived to be members of these communities are asked to share their pronouns, this can mark them out as “other”.

‘It is good practice for all of us to normalise sharing our pronouns, rather than expecting that people will assume them correctly (even if they do).’

The guidance is optional but the university also encourages staff and students to add their pronouns to their digital profile.

This includes their email signature, Teams profile name and other communications platforms.

Toby Young, the founder and director of the Free Speech Union, said: ‘The problem with demanding that all staff and students declare their pronouns and, presumably, use each other’s preferred pronouns, is that it requires some of them – gender critical feminists, orthodox Christians – to affirm something they don’t believe to be true, i.e., that it’s possible for a person to change sex.’

Toby Young (pictured), founder and director of the Free Speech Union, criticised the guidance

The university adds that while mistakes do happen, students and staff should quickly apologise and try not to draw attention to the mistake.

And they encourage their members to be ‘active bystanders’ – by gently reminding people of someone’s pronouns even when they are not in the room.

A University of Kent spokesman said: ‘Kent is committed to the creation and support of a balanced, inclusive and diverse community.

‘While we don’t instruct our students or staff on use of pronouns in communication – written or verbal – we do offer guidance, explanations and encouragement on how to use them.

‘Staff and students are encouraged to share their pronouns – either on emails or in meetings.

‘This is to help normalise the practice and make others feel comfortable.

‘However, this is just part of our wider EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] strategy which helps staff and students feel confident to play their part in creating an inclusive community at Kent.

‘These are guidelines, not policies, and are there as a useful resource and support tool. However, the wellbeing of our staff and students is important to us and any complaint regarding race, gender, religion, or sexuality is taken seriously.’

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