THE BLOG
12/11/2013 08:24 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

Let's Talk About This

We live in a complex world -- a world where people are often at odds with each other over different opinions and beliefs. While we may not always agree with each other, we have the capacity to open our minds and our hearts to try to understand opposing points of view. It's a human trait I value, and it is at the core of what we try to instill as educators.

I am mindful of the benefit of this attribute because of a recent AP article, "Preferred Pronouns Gain Traction at US Colleges," that appeared on Yahoo News. In this article, a few Mills College students expressed how they start their club meeting by asking members to state their preferred gender pronouns to help create a more inclusive environment. This is an issue being discussed at institutions across the United States.

At Mills, one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, we believe it is our responsibility to foster an open-minded environment. I was, therefore, unprepared for and disheartened by the rash of hostile comments that were expressed by the general public in response to the article, as well as personal attacks that were made against our students.

As educators, we must pursue new ideas, including ideas that may be uncomfortable for some. From gender identity to racial equality, you will find Mills students championing a wide range of causes, challenging the status quo, and helping to give voice to the voiceless. In this particular instance, a handful of our students found a way to be heard on a topic that is important to them.

I have no doubt other students will emerge with whatever personal or political cause motivates them, exercising their right to articulate something equally challenging, something that requires many of us to expand our ideas or reconsider our convictions, something that will inspire change. I hope when they do, they will be met with intelligent and respectful debate.

We teach our students to think for themselves and to express their opinions. We also ask that they recognize other points of view. As graduates, our students lead thoughtful discourse in their careers and their communities so that we all can benefit from new ways of thinking.