Hull University students to lose marks for using gender-specific terms

The move by the Religion department is to promote gender-neutral terminology in academic work

Hull University students will lose marks for using gender insensitive language and now require students to use gender-neutral terms

A document obtained by the Sunday Times via a Freedom of Information request shows that Hull University Religion undergraduates have been advised to “be aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations…failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark.”

The University of Hull is not the first institution to advocate gender-neutral language. In the UK, Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University all encourage gender-neutral terms; making suggestions like exchanging the word “man-made” for terms like “synthetic” or “artificial”, and replacing “sportsmanship” for words such as “good humour”, “sense of fair play” or “fairness”

Although it is common for universities to advise students to stay away from gender-specific terms, Hull is the first UK university to officially allow gender-specific language to affect marking.

The new information from this document has been heavily discussed and criticised as being “linguistic policing”.

Dr Lia Litosseliti, senior lecturer of Linguistics at City University London pointed out: “It is easy to dismiss or ridicule such attempts (as is often done) as ‘policing’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’.

“It is harder to have a proper discussion about the genuine need to raise awareness of the role language can play in reinforcing as well as contesting gender inequalities.”

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A senior lecturer of Religion from Hull University has commented: “Language is powerful and we place a high emphasis on gender-neutral language on our courses.

“Should any student use language which is not deemed gender-neutral, they will be offered feedback as to why. Deduction of marks is taken on a case-by-case basis.” However, they chose to remain anonymous.

A final year Religion student at the University of Hull, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I think that if this is going to affect students grades and the way in which they need to write an essay, every student should be told to make marking fair.

“I wasn’t aware of these changes in writing policy until I saw a news article about it. I appreciate the idea and think it should be enforced to make students aware of the power of language but it should also be enforced across all departments or else it loses its importance if only a certain percentage of students are to use gender-neutral language.”