University students told essays will be marked down if they fail to use 'gender-sensitive' language

Olivia Rudgard
Hull University has started marking down students for using

Students at Hull University are being told to use gender neutral language in their essays - or risk losing marks. 

According to documents obtained by the Sunday Times, students are told 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 document, which was released following a Freedom of Information request, was part of a course on religious activism being taught at the university. 

A senior lecturer in religion at the university said: “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.”

Academics criticised the move, calling it “linguistic policing”.

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, told the Sunday Times: “Usually such threats are implicit rather than spelt out as in the case of Hull.

"This linguistic policing is used as a coercive tool to impose a conformist outlook. The alternative is to pay a penalty of being marked down.”

It has become increasingly common for universities to advise their students to use gender-neutral language, but this is the first time a university has said not doing so will affect a student's mark. 

Gender-neutral terms checklist | From Cardiff Metropolitan Universitys Code of Practice on using Inclusive Language

Many universities advise students not to use "he" or "him" as a default pronoun, suggesting instead using "he or she" or "they". 

Cardiff Metropolitan's "Guide to Inclusive Language" gives gender-neutral alternatives to 34 words or phrases. 

The six-page document says that the terms “forefathers”, “best man for the job” and “man-hour” should be avoided in order to "promote an atmosphere in which all students feel valued". 

The university said in a statement that the document "makes no demands, bans nothing and carries no sanctions.​"

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