A number of University of Kansas Libraries employees now wear buttons showing their preferred gender pronouns. Extra buttons are offered for students who want one, too.
“Because gender is, itself, fluid and up to the individual,” a posted sign at the libraries explains. “Each person has the right to identify their own pronouns, and we encourage you to ask before assuming someone’s gender. Pronouns matter! Misgendering someone can have lasting consequences, and using the incorrect pronoun can be hurtful, disrespectful, and invalidate someone’s identity.”
The buttons are part of KU Libraries' “You Belong Here” marketing campaign, targeted at attracting undergraduates and making sure they feel welcome, including those who are transgender, library leaders said.
There are three versions of the square-shaped “My pronouns are” buttons: “He him his,” “She her hers” and, for people who don’t identify themselves as male or female, “They them theirs.”
Library employees can choose whether they want to wear them, said Rebecca Smith, KU Libraries executive director of communications and advancement. She said there are extra buttons available at some library counters, and KU Libraries has reordered at least once to keep up with demand.
“We’ve told all of our front-line employees, if a student asks, give them a button,” Smith said.
Those “front-line” employees at the circulation and information desks are the ones who initially suggested the idea and, along with input from KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, helped craft language to advertise that the libraries are inclusive spaces.
The “You Belong Here” campaign aims to increase the visibility of KU Libraries’ commitment to diversity and inclusion, “a universal value of libraries,” dean of libraries Kevin Smith (no relation to Rebecca Smith) said.
Perhaps unlike any other academic building or unit at KU, the libraries are used by everyone, not just students taking certain classes or majoring in certain things, he said.
The language is strong, but that reaffirms a historical stance of libraries, Smith said. They have never really been neutral places.
Libraries celebrate First Amendment values, he said, and have been vocal opponents of efforts such as banning books — which often target target titles by authors from populations whose voices have been oppressed.
“A commitment to support the voices of marginalized people is part and parcel to the libraries’ commitment to the values of the First Amendment,” he said.
Smith, who came to KU from Duke University in May, said diversity and inclusion was on the minds of all universities last year.
“You Belong Here” signs also highlight locations of “gender-inclusive” restrooms, reflection rooms for meditation and prayer and lactation stations, all now available in both Watson and Anschutz libraries.