Professor Deducts Points When Students Don’t Use Gender-Neutral Language

“‘Mankind’ does not mean ‘all people.’”

Dr. Anne Scott, an English professor at Northern Arizona University, has made it clear that she — if we may be so insensitive — will not tolerate language that isn’t gender-neutral in class assignments.

According to Campus Reform, Dr. Scott deducted one point from English major Cailin Jeffers’s paper because she used “mankind” instead of “humanity.” The professor even sent an e-mail with a detailed explanation as to why she deducted the point for “problems with diction (word choice):”

I would be negligent, as a professor who is running a class about the human condition and the assumptions we make about being “human,” if I did not also raise this issue of gendered language and ask my students to respect the need for gender-neutral language. The words we use matter very much, or else teachers would not be making an issue of this at all, and the MLA [Modern Language Association] would not be making recommendations for gender-neutral language at the national level.

The professor offered Jeffers to revise her paper’s word choice and to correct other errors to receive additional points — Jeffers scored a 39/50 — but made it clear going forward that gender-neutral language is a must:

I will respect your choice to leave your diction choices “as is” and to make whatever political and linguistic statement you want to make by doing so. By the same token, I will still need to subtract a point because your choice will not be made in the letter or spirit of this particular class, which is all about having you and other students looking beneath your assumptions and understanding that “mankind” does not mean “all people” to all people. It positively does not.

Jeffers told Campus Reform that Dr. Scott had told the class after their first round of essays that terms like “mankind” would not be acceptable. However, Jeffers didn’t think her professor was really serious and so she tested the theory. After learning she was dead serious, Jeffers requested a meeting:

I stated that I agree with everything she said about my paper except my use of “mankind.” She proceeded to tell me that the NAU English department, as well as the Modern Language Association, are pushing for gender-neutral language, and all students must abide by this. She told me that “mankind” does not refer to all people, only males. I refuted, stating that it DOES refer to all people, [but] she proceeded to tell me that I was wrong, “mankind” is sexist, and I should make an effort to look beyond my preset positions and ideologies, as is the focus of the class.

After the discussion, Scott sent a message to all students claiming her rules have nothing to do with “political correctness” and that she is only following “guidelines:”

You are welcome to make a statement about your politics, or conscience, or beliefs by using gender-specific language in your papers, and in many cases gender-specific language is called for, when you can discern with certainty the gender of the characters and author you’re discussing. However, I’ll still have to subtract a point or two for any kind of language that refers to all people as “mankind” or readers as “him/he”, for the reasons I’ve outlined carefully above.

WWE's Mankind seems to be taking this well:

In other gender news this week, the Associated Press announced a change to its stylebook to include more gender-neutral language where appropriate, namely the singular use of the plural pronoun “they” to refer to “people who don’t identify as a he or a she.”

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