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Respecting how people wish to be named


Over the course of teaching university for the past dozen years, and through my own many missteps, I have come to see it as a basic rule of decency that as much as possible, people should be called whatever they prefer to be called. I have seen this rule of thumb proven helpful in many kinds of conversations across substantial differences.

I have seen this act of decency make a difference in dialogues about abortion, where people are not allowed to refer to each other with appellations like "anti-life" or "anti-choice," but need to use the term that the other would use to describe her/himself.

And I have seen it often in the classroom, where it is important to let people define whether they would like to be called. 

Of course, in a great many cases, letting adults specify the way they want to be addressed is not only a matter of decency, but also of dignity. This is especially the case where a part of oneself, or even something like one's entire being, has not been acknowledged in situations where it mattered, and where people could have done differently.

So it was that I received word that a community of students where I teach, at Fordham University in the Bronx, recently announced some good news about the dignity of recognition. This week, the Rainbow Alliance announced that discussions with administrators had led to the official acceptance of the word "Queer" as a legitimate designation for groups at the university. 

This often quiet revolution is happening in uneven, but sure, ways across Catholic college and university life in the USA. I support and am proud of these Fordham students and of Fordham administrators for opening up a new stage of recognition regarding realities that are, to be sure, needful of naming, but about which much more is at stake than only names. 


The dignity of recognition (Tom Beaudoin / America)

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