Gender Non-Conforming Students and the Campus Officer: Words Matter
Director of Community Safety
Changing the way officers talk and write about students as a way to pique awareness and demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity.
College campuses as focal points for change
College students have historically been at the leading edge of many kinds of social change and this remains the case with regard to evolving ways that people experience and express gender. Additionally, many students first feel free to explore their personal identities when they arrive at college: they are away from parents, family, and long-term friends who have long-established ideas of them, they are exposed to a wider array of peers from many different locations and cultures, and they have the opportunity to reimagine who they are in an environment that typically encourages self-exploration.
College campuses as focal points for conflict with campus authorities in uniform
College campuses have historically been areas for the expression of dissent and activism by students, both about internal issues at the institution, and larger social issues. These issues have included basic civil rights change, opinions about war, apartheid, and modern movements specifically addressing concerns about policing, such as Black Lives Matter.
College Campuses as focal points for understanding
College campuses provide unique opportunities for people in uniform and students to interact that are not available in larger communities:
Uniformed agencies are often deeply integrated into student life across an array of campus organizations, programs, and events
Students often rely on uniformed officers for many services not traditionally associated with law enforcement, such as safety escorts, unlocks, vehicle/motorist assists, etc.
Colleges have established organizational structures for engaging community members in dialogue
Because of the many opportunities for enhanced interactions between students and uniformed officers, colleges could become places where students could have frequent non-crisis interactions with officers that would allow them to reform attitudes about people in uniform while simultaneously giving officers greater opportunities to hear from students about their experiences.
The way in which we speak about others influences our thinking as much as our thinking influences how we speak. Moreover, how we speak and write about others within a tightly knit group, such as uniformed officers, can either reinforce or challenge implicit biases and long-held belief systems about others.
By consciously examining our use of language as it relates to students, we can improve our relationships with the community and improve our ability to engage with the people whom we serve.
Examples include the following:
- Allow officers on a voluntary basis to display their pronouns on name tags, uniforms, business cards, etc.
- During service delivery, ask students (and others) what name they use and if they would like specific pronouns used in conversation and documentation of encounters
- Add explicit indications of pronouns, names, etc. into written communications and reports
- Remove unnecessary references to gendered terms or physical descriptions from reports and other communications
- Learn about current trends in gender expression, especially in terms of language use, among college students
- Identify how language is used in your organization with regard to students’ identity, including gender expression and compare this to current trends
- Develop a list of opportunities for your organization to evolve the use of language to increase awareness among officers and demonstrate a willingness to be inclusive of gender non-conforming students