South African university drops gender titles in student correspondence

The University of the Witwatersrand will not use ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’ in official communications

July 25, 2018

A South African university has decided to drop gender titles in correspondence with its students in a bid to create a “more inclusive environment” for transgender and non-binary students.

TimesLive reported that the University of the Witwatersrand sent out a statement saying that it recognises that it is “invalidating and distressing” for people who were assigned female at birth but identify as male, for example, “to be constantly addressed by a non-affirming title in university correspondence and systems”.

Tish Lumos, programme coordinator at the university’s Transformation and Employment Equity Office, said that students can now choose how to be addressed within the university community. “What we did was remove titles from our students, and now they can specify the title they would like to have.”

The university tweeted on 23 July that it was “committed to human rights & opposes all discrimination on the basis of gender identity & expression”. It now gives students and staff the option to identify themselves in gender-neutral ways by choosing “Mx” as a gender category in the administrative system, the tweet said, rather than “Mr”, “Mrs” or “Miss”.

The university’s statement did warn that it was unable change a student’s title on any legal documentation, however, because under the law a sex description can be altered only by an order from the director general of home affairs.

Javu Baloyi‚ spokesman for the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa‚ welcomed the move, saying it demonstrated that “the rights of people are being respected and safeguarded”.

“It is an affirmation of the rights of individuals,” he said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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