UNC Charlotte program encourages use of gender neutral language

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CHARLOTTE, NC – A program at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte is actively encouraging staff, faculty, and students to use gender-neutral language to be more inclusive towards the transgender community.

Specifically, the “Safe Zone” program at UNCC suggests the words “he” and “she” be replaced with the word “ze”, and the words “her/him” and “herself/himself” become “hir” and “hirself”.

A chart on the Safe Zone website instructs students on how to use the gender-neutral pronouns in a sentence, and also has a list of terminology used by those in the LGBT community.

Students we spoke with on campus were fairly split on whether or not they would be open to using the language.

"I think it's definitely a good idea because I've had classes with transgender people before and the he/she thing kinda really upsets them,” said a student named Heather. “I think the “Ze” will help them even if it's just a little change, I think they would appreciate that.”

“Not a chance dog, would never use it,” said Zach Abercrombie. “That’s stupid, that makes no sense, it’s he and she, there’s no in between there.”

FOX 46 reached out to UNC Charlotte to get some more information about the program.

“The Safe Zone program is designed to teach faculty and staff about how to create affirming spaces for our Queer and Trans populations,” Joshua Burford wrote in a statement to FOX 46.

Burford is the assistant director of UNC Charlotte’s Office of Sexual and Gender Diversity.

“We always want students to use more inclusive language as often as possible and we stress this a lot when we are in classrooms and offering programs,” Burford wrote. “Conversations about inclusive language are a good starting point to open up dialogue about difference and to empower students to speak up more often. Student are also able to access information about inclusive language through class presentations offered by my office, programming that we run here in the office, and by advising of student organizations.  In this way students are both actively and passively encouraged to use inclusive language as often as possible.  We don't have physical pamphlets in a traditional sense but do use our website as a resource in this way.”

The program isn’t mandated or forced, but students are split on the issue of whether or not it’s needed.

"I think it's great to start out with gender neutral pronouns before you approach someone you don't know in order to not offend them,” said Kayla Kerschus.  “I have no problem with that, I think it needs to be brought up in conversation more.”

"If I saw someone I thought looked like a girl I would call her a she, I wouldn't assume they were trans or anything, but if they told me they  preferred it I guess I'd try to keep that in mind, call them Ze I guess,” said Michael Karp.

"I think it's a good start, I think a lot of changes have to happen for everyone to feel comfortable, so I don't see a problem with saying Ze instead of he or she,” said Kenyah Smith.

“I wouldn’t use it,” said Dylan Reid. “It just don’t sound right.”

UNC Charlotte hosts “Safe Zone” training sessions that students, staff, and faculty can attend.

The next one is on November 17th at the Student Union.

“The Friendly Peer program is designed for students to go through and its a 1 hour version of Safe Zone that gives them an overall sense of what the community looks like both on and off campus,” Burford wrote. “The programs are all voluntary and we update our information on the website as often as we can to keep things up to date.”

The next Friendly Peer session is on October 26th at the Student Union.

A link to UNC Charlotte’s Safe Zone program website can be found here.