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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Somerville fights gender binaries

TW: Transphobia 

Somerville JCR has provisionally passed a motion to introduce the gender-neutral pronouns ‘they’ and ‘their’ into its Constitution and Standing Orders in its Fifth Week JCR meeting on Sunday.

The broadly supported motion is intended to “encourage all officers and members of the JCR to use gender inclusive language wherever possible”. JCR chair David Miron and JCR LGBQT+ Officer Chloe Funnell, who proposed the motion, argue it will help promote inclusivity for all JCR members. However, due to a miscommunication on the extent of the majority needed for the motion to pass, the motion has to be re-submitted to and pass next week’s meeting.

Miron and Funnell note in their motion that the first article of Somerville JCR’s constitution states that “all undergraduate Student Members of College shall be full members of the JCR”. They feel that the gendered articulation of JCR officer positions might exclude those who identify as neither male nor female, conflicting with this first article. The two students therefore stated in the motion that, “Members of the JCR should have the right to run for First Year Officer and Welfare Officer, even if they do not identify as male or female.” The motion further proposed a revision of the titles of ‘Male Welfare Officer’ and ‘Female Welfare Officer’ to ‘Two Welfare Officers of Different Gender Identities’.

The proposed motion would result in 14 pronoun changes in the existing JCR constitution and 19 substitutions in the standing orders.

Ex-JCR president Shyamli Badgaiyan chaired the discussion and thought it “very open and productive”, telling Cherwell, “While there was some confusion expressed about how welfare representation would play out, there was enthusiastic support for using gender-neutral pronouns and leading change towards greater equality and tolerance as a college.”

The motion was not, however, unanimously passed in a secret ballot, with 39 votes for, three against and three abstentions. The leading critic of the proposed motion, Jonathan Wu, raised a number of points in opposition. Wu believes the results of the secret ballot (three against and three abstentions) show he was not alone in his concerns, telling Cherwell, “The substantive agenda behind the seemingly benign and dull grammatical exercise lies in forcing the students to accept their private beliefs that the human race is made up of more subcategories other than being male or female, through the mechanism of changing the Officer’s official title.”

Wu suggested this could be better served by creating a third welfare officer to represent other gender identities “even if they might not objectively exist”. He maintains, “I continue to respect each person whom I come into contact with, and I believe that this is what we should really focus on”.

Fourth-year linguist and ex-Somerville LGBQT+ Officer Jonny Lawrence expressed concern at some of the opposition points raised. Lawrence said, “Some of the language used in the meeting can only be described as transphobic and wholly inappropriate in an open an theoretically safe space.

“Indeed, some of the comments caused distress to members of the JCR who were present at the meeting. It is reassuring that this opposition was very limited, however.”

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