News  SSMU Debates Gender-Neutral Language

A Review of the First Legislative Council

On September 10, the SSMU Legislative Council convened for their first meeting of the fall semester. While a significant portion of Council was dedicated to committee allocations and reports from both the executives and committees, there were a number of important motions brought to council, notably the Motion Regarding Adoption of the Standing Rules, as well as the Motion Regarding Adoption of a Conflict of Interest Policy.

There was little debate regarding the latter, most significantly over how long to extend the policy for – Council eventually agreed to extend it until 2024 in order to stagger the dates that policies must return to Council. On the other hand, there was a great deal of debate regarding the changes to the standing rules, with a significant area of discussion focused on a number of the recommendations given by the Gender Neutral Language Researcher, specifically regarding the format of the placards used in Council, as well as responses to misgendering.

Colour-Coded Pronouns on Placards

Clause 4.7.1, which was eventually removed from the motion, was particularly controversial. It stated, “placards will also use a neutral colour system to more easily identify commonly used pronouns as recommended by the Gender Neutral Language Policy Implementation Coordinator.” In this recommendation, green would be used for councillors using she/her pronouns, burgundy for councillors using he/him pronouns, and black for councillors using they/them pronouns.

However, councillors had different opinions on the colour scheme, with some advocating to keep it the same. It was eventually agreed to keep the placards red, and instead increase the font of the pronouns.

VP University Affairs Madeline Wilson, who was in favour of removing the coloured bands in exchange for increasing the font size of the pronouns, explained her position further to the Daily:

“In my experience, the coloured band on [councillors’] placards has become colloquially understood to refer to their gender identity and not their pronouns. So for example, a councillor who used she/her and they/them pronouns and identified as a woman would be assigned the placard band colo[u]r that denotes a female gender identity, which a) fails to capture the full picture of this person’s experience with gender and b) does not, in my opinion, simplify the identification of the pronouns by which they wish to be addressed.” She elaborated to say “that presenting options within the binary and then one option outside the binary conveys the idea that such a binary exists, when in reality, it does not.”

Wilson writes that SSMU Legislative Council has been a “deeply, systemically, and toxically masculine” space, and that “to implement this mechanism (the coloured placard bans) and do nothing to address the fact that Council can be (and has been) an actively hostile space for folks who do not identify as male, [feels] like a slap in the face.”

Responses to Misgendering During Council

Additionally, there was debate over clauses 2.7.5.2 and 2.7.5.3, the first of which mandated that if the Speaker notices the misgendering of any councillor, they call it to Council’s attention by stating, “Before we continue with debate, I would like to call attention to the pronouns specified on councillor [Last Name’s] placard.”

Clause 2.7.5.3 then mandated that if a councillor noticed the misgendering of another councillor, they call it to the attention of the Speaker on a Point of Personal Privilege. In the final, approved version of the standing rules, Council voted to change the language of the councillor clause from “[councillors] should call [the misgendering of another councillor] to the attention of the Speaker on a Point of Personal Privilege,” to “[councillors] may call this to the attention of the Speaker on a Point of Personal Privilege.”

Adam Gwiazda-Amsel, VP External at SSMU, was in favour of the change. “I argued that this wording change offered an avenue for recourse, but did not impose this obligation on councillors given that the person being misgendered might not want to call attention to it,” he wrote to the Daily. “In my comments, I encouraged councillors to ask one another if they’d like to be spoken up for.”

In addition, they removed clause 2.7.5.2, which required the Speaker to address the misgendering. Gwiazda-Amsel elaborated on his reasoning in supporting this change. “The clause which mandates the speaker to call out misgendering would produce an incredibly uncomfortable environment for the person being misgendered, in case they did not want to call attention to it,” he explained.

This suggestion was first given by the SSMU Gender Neutral Language Researcher at a meeting of Council in September 2018. At this meeting, they explained the procedures they were proposing: “councillors must address each other formally, usually in the form of councillor last name, and avoid referring to one another using third person pronouns to promote a cordial environment,” they said.

Other Council News

Also acknowledged were the appointments of four new members to the Board of Directors, two of whom (councillors Bhutkar and Wright) are filling the role immediately as Interim Directors, while the other two (councillors Chan and Fakih) will enter the role on November 15.

A number of announcements were made as well. Importantly, several Committees are now open for applications for members-at-large, notably the Equity Committee (via the Equity Committee Facebook event) as well as the Library Improvement Fund Committee (which can be found at https://ua.ssmu.ca/libraries/). Additionally, elections for First Year Council have begun, and students can now access nomination kits for the Clubs and Services Representative position (available on SSMUís Facebook page). Furthermore, it was announced that a number of motions regarding the climate change emergency would be brought to faculty and department councils in the near future.

Finally, it was noted that the SSMU General Manager, Ryan Hughes, had unfortunately resigned. He had worked at SSMU for the past seven years.

This article has been corrected to clarify that the four new appointments were to the SSMU Board of Directors, not the Board of Governors. The Daily regrets this error.