Inclusive Language Policy Announcement -->

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Inclusive Language Policy Announcement

Earlier in the year, members of the Writing Center formed a working group around social change initiatives, both those sponsored by Walden University and those that we could spearhead on our own. One of our earliest discussions in that group was one around gender-neutral and gender-fluid pronouns, noting that while the American Psychological Association (APA) indeed supported the use of the singular they, APA did not raise awareness of pronouns being used by LGBTQ+ communities and subcommunities.

Inclusive Language Policies Announcement

We looked to address this discrepancy in the following gender-neutral pronouns policy, which we drafted over the summer and was approved by a number of Walden’s committees and academic advisory boards, including Walden’s Research Process Advisory Council, the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, and the Center for Social Change. The policy states:
Gender-Neutral Pronouns Policy: Walden University prides itself as an inclusive institution that serves a diverse population of students. Committed to broadening the university’s understanding of inclusivity and diversity, Walden will now accept gender-neutral pronouns in student writing. This practice acknowledges APA’s recent endorsement of the singular they and also embraces alternative pronouns currently in circulation (e.g., the nominatives xe, ve, ze/zir, ey, and zhe and their associated derivations). Walden recognizes that discussion around gender identity is ongoing. As such, the university will accept any pronoun in student writing so long as evidence can be provided that it is accepted as a respectful term by the community it represents.

Coincidentally, while we were drafting this policy, another opportunity to revisit our language policies arose. Members of the autistic community reached out to us after we had tweeted about APA’s preference for person-first language. We provided an example in our webpage on bias that labeled the phrase “autistic child” as bias and “child with autism” as preferred. What our followers told us, however, was that, as members of the community, this was not their preferred phrasing. In fact, organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Identity-First Autistic had been arguing for identity-first language, and Walden’s director of disability services reported that some in the Deaf community were also moving in that direction. Again, our social change working group was reminded of the importance of language inclusivity. We drafted the following identify-first language policy, which was also reviewed and approved by Walden’s aforementioned institutional bodies:
Identity-First Language Policy: Walden University respects the evolving endorsements of communities and self-advocacy groups. As such, while the American Psychological Association (2010) recommends using people-first language when addressing persons with disabilities (e.g., children with ADHD; p. 76), Walden also recognizes that certain groups or subgroups thereof prefer identity-first language (e.g., autistic children). To this end, the university will accept people-first and identity-first language in student writing so long as evidence can be provided that it is accepted as a respectful term by the community it represents.

Discussions about identity-language inclusivity will assuredly continue, and we're excited to serve on the Writing Center’s Social Change Working Group, which will be partially responsible for uncovering and discovering these conversations. We recognize that language is powerful, that a continued effort toward precision should include an awareness of social advocacy, and that we can support our community of learners with the tools they need to represent themselves and the communities they write about with respect.

With that in mind, we invite you, the Walden community, and all of our readers to join us in this conversation below. An active and diverse community helps broaden these discussions and raises cultural awareness around identity. We welcome your thoughts and ideas. 

Recently, we discussed these policies further in an episode of our our podcast for writers: WriteCast. Please click this link to access our entire WriteCast library, or click play on the player below. Thank you. 

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The Walden University Writing Center reflects the social change mission of the university by supporting the research programs of its students. The Writing Center also reflects this mission by acknowledging that language itself has the power to contribute to positive social change by framing the way groups, individuals, and ideas are researched, written about, and discussed. Inclusive language can be the vehicle by which broader, longer-term social change is enacted. 

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  1. Very interesting read. As an advocate for individuals with disabilities , I often cautioned people that we used 'People first Language' -we see the person first and the disability after. I am happy that Walden has this policy to guide students in their writing.

  2. Thank you for commenting, Beverly. We know this is topic is contentious and up for debate, which is why we strove to expand the flexibility of this particular APA publication guideline. Who better to make these language decisions than the people most affected by them. Keep up the good work!