A battle for “mankind” is taking place inside a Northern Arizona University classroom.
An English major at NAU contacted an educational watchdog this week after she was penalized for refusing to use a gender-neutral term in lieu of “mankind.” A follow-up email by Dr. Anne Scott said that anyone who does not abide by the “letter or spirit” of the class must be docked for their decision.
“Included with [class rules] were several examples of what was and wasn’t OK to use,” student Cailin Jeffers told Campus Reform Tuesday. “In one of these examples she stated that we could not use the word ‘mankind.’ Instead, we should use ‘humankind.’ I thought this was absurd, and I wasn’t sure if she was serious.”
Dr. Scott took one point out of 50 off Ms. Jeffers’ paper and noted that the Modern Language Association is working to have gender-neutral guidelines adopted on a national level.
“I will respect your choice to leave your diction choices ‘as is’ and to make whatever political and linguistic statement you want to make by doing so,” the professor wrote. “By the same token, I will still need to subtract a point because your choice will not be made in the letter or spirit of this particular class, which is all about having you and other students looking beneath your assumptions and understanding that ‘mankind’ does not mean ‘all people’ to all people. It positively does not.”
An email was sent to the entire class shortly afterward, which stated the “crucial” need to recognize that “our word choices mean a great deal and have consequences in terms of what we reveal about our assumptions about ourselves and others, and the world generally.”
Ms. Jeffers said that in a private meeting with her professor she was told that using the term ‘mankind’ is sexist, and that she should “make an effort to look beyond my preset positions and ideologies, as is the focus of the class.”
Efforts by Campus Reform to obtain a comment from Dr. Scott or NAU’s Dean of the College prior to publication were unsuccessful.