Are “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” and “Mr.” destined to become linguistic artifacts of the past? At the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, they already are. These antique entrenchers of cis-gendered heteronormativity are now taboo there.
Interim Provost Louise Lennihan announced the new policy in January: No administrative staff may address current or prospective students using these titles. Instead, they should use first and last names. Presumably “ma’am” and “sir” are also off limits. What rules circumscribe professors’ speech is unclear. Professors aren’t mentioned in the new rules, but each one received a copy of Lennihan’s memo, which admonishes that the policy should be “interpreted as broadly as possible.” “My interpretation was that I was being asked to adhere to this policy, as were the other professors who received the letter,” commented one professor, Juliette Blevins, to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story.
It’s a novel reading to take Title IX as title nihilism, to be sure. No other institution bound by Title IX has adopted such a measure, and even the attorney Title IX consultant the Wall Street Journal interviewed, who says she “loves the concept,” rejects the creative legal interpretation. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, charged with executing Title IX and notoriously zealous in enforcing gender equality, has not asked any schools to consider rephrasing, let alone eliminating, gender-specific titles.