For students who identify as nonhuman animals, should the requests for nonhuman pronouns, animal names, and animal vocalizations be taken seriously in college classroom settings?
My question is not about specific school's policy (after reading all the official documents, I have a pretty good understanding of the university's policy: The decision is mainly the instructor's). My question is more about the general culture in higher education. I want to make sure my handling, if leaked to social media, will not cause me trouble finding a faculty position years from now (if I decide to move).
Admittedly, this is a very strange question that I never thought I had to deal with. I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and I have never even heard of such things. Until now.
This Summer, I'm teaching an online class in a different university through a visiting position. At the beginning of the semester, I used a Google form to collect some information from the students, including their academic background, career directions, and how they like to be addressed. The last item is important, because class meetings are held over Zoom, and knowing how to get someone's attention is useful. This is where I get a rather unusual response.
One student stated that...
- "She" identifies as a nonhuman animal. The correct pronouns should be it/it/its.
- "She" also prefer to be called by "her" animal name (e.g. Dumpling) rather than "her" first name on the roster.
- "She" also warned me that "she" would occasionally start sentences with animal vocalization (e.g. "meow meow") when talking, and "she" hope I'll be okay with that.
(there are few more unusual requests) It is hard to tell if this is a prank. And I can see some danger from both sides of this decision. I don't have many friends in the department with whom I feel comfortable having honest discussions. Even if I do, I doubt they can offer any meaningful advises since this situation is new to all of us. I'm hoping there's someone here who have dealt with such rare (but definitely not unique) situation.
In case relevant, the course in question is a senior level topic course in applied mathematics. The class is large, and the atmosphere is generally serious and professional. The university I'm teaching in (as a visiting professor) and my home university are both in the United States.