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Uni fires employees over email pronouns

Two staffers at a private Christian university in upstate New York were fired for using their pronouns in their work email, according to a report.

Houghton University administrators asked residential hall directors Raegan Zelaya, 27, and Shua Wilmot, 29, to remove “she/her” and “he/him” from their school-associated email accounts, according to The New York Times.

Ms Zelaya and Mr Wilmot were relieved of their duties “effective immediately” after refusing to do so, the NY Post reports.

Ms Zelaya shared a letter from the university dated April 19 explaining she was “in violation of institutional policy”.

She was barred from having an on-campus presence, where she was only allowed to leave her apartment to either get her mail or get her meals from the university’s dining hall.

Ms Zelaya and Mr Wilmot said they included their pronouns due to their first names being gender-neutral and, in the past, have been misgendered in corresponding emails.

“I have been mistaken for a woman over email,” Mr Wilmot said in the video. “When someone misgenders me, it sometimes makes them uncomfortable so let me avoid that professionally by putting my pronouns in my signature so you know that you’re writing to a man.”

“Reagan is also a dual-gender name,” Ms Zelaya added. “I know many men and women who have the name Raegan. From a practicality point is helpful to say what my pronouns are. It’s a pretty standard industry practice.”

Ms Zelaya’s letter of termination also cited she was relieved for “defamatory statements” made in the university student newspaper when she was asked for feedback on the administration’s closure of the Mosaic Multicultural Center — an on-campus diversity space.

“I responded with my opinion, thoughts and [perspectives],” she said in a YouTube video. “I didn’t think I was saying anything that I hadn’t already communicated with my superiors.”

She revealed she had meetings with high-ranking administrators at the university about her views on inclusiveness on campus.

Ms Zelaya believes she was fired because of how she upholds her Christian values but alleges the school is also motivated to appeal to more conservative political beliefs.

“We live in a very divided world right now where everything is this or that, right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat,” Ms Zelaya told the outlet. “As Christians, I think we’ve gotten so caught up in these ideas of, ‘This is what I should be advocating for or upset about,’ that we forget to actually care for people.”

In a statement, a Houghton spokesperson said the university “has never terminated an employment relationship based solely on the use of pronouns in staff email signatures”, relaying that the school has “required” employees to remove “extraneous” information from email signatures — including Scripture quotes, the outlet reported.

Houghton University is affiliated with Wesleyan Church.

University President Wayne Lewis Jr. responded to the letter signed by the alumni over the administration’s decision to fire Ms Zelaya and Mr Wilmot, the closure of the diversity centre, and the affiliation with Wesleyan Church, saying the school “unapologetically privileges an orthodox Christian worldview, rooted in the Wesleyan theological tradition”.

Mr Lewis Jr also noted that university staff was required to reaffirm their “understanding of and agreement to these commitments” at the start of each school year.

He cited the closure of the Mosaic Multicultural Center was due to “its current form and function no longer achieving the university’s aims”.

The Post has reached out to the university for comment.

In the fallout of the terminations, more than 600 alumni from the small Christian university have signed a petition supporting the pair and disagreement with the university’s decision to close the diversity centre.

“I think it boils down to — they want to be trans-exclusive and they want to communicate that to potential students and the parents of potential students,” Mr Wilmot told the outlet.

This article originally appeared on NY Post and was reproduced with permission

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