Brown University Uses 'Gender-Inclusive' 'They' for Acceptance Letters

Ivy League school will not use asterisks because it's not 'inclusive' enough

Ben Affleck at Brown Commencement / Getty Images
Ben Affleck at Brown Commencement / Getty Images
April 19, 2017


Brown University is now using "gender-inclusive" pronouns on acceptance letters, adding to a growing list of transgender policies.

The Ivy League school is confusing potential students by using the pronouns "they" and "them" for men and women, writes the Wall Street Journal's James Freeman.

"Brown University in Providence, R.I. houses one of the country's most selective undergraduate colleges," Freeman reported. "The Brown Daily Herald, a student-run newspaper, cites Dean of Admission Logan Powell in reporting that the school received a record-high 32,724 applications this year, and admitted just 8.3 [percent] of applicants."

"Among those lucky few is the daughter of a Journal reader who is still trying to make sense of a letter the family received this week from Mr. Powell," Freeman explained. "Our reader's bright daughter had already received news of her acceptance when a letter arrived that was addressed to her 'Parent/Guardian.'"

"Oddly, the note referred to the accepted student not as 'she' but as 'they.'"

Freeman said the reader's family was "perplexed" by the letter and a voicemail message left by the school referring to the daughter as "them."

A Brown spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that the university is now using the grammatically incorrect "them" to be more "gender-inclusive."

"Our admission office typically refers to applicants either by first name or by using 'they/their' pronouns," said Brian Clark. "While the grammatical construction may read as unfamiliar to some, it has been adopted by many newsrooms and other organizations as a gender-inclusive option."

The accepted student's father said the change in policy has turned off his family to the Ivy League school.

"Mind you, our daughter has always been clear what her biological gender and identity is—she’s a woman," he said. "[The school] wants to make it clear that only left wing extremists are welcome at Brown. Fine with us—good riddance."

Brown has implemented numerous transgender programs and policies. All of its suites and apartments on campus have a gender-neutral option, and the school offers many gender-inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms.

Students can also change their names in the Brown computer system, even if they have not changed names legally. "On campus we refer to this as your 'lived name,'" Brown says.

The university also has a "Queer Legacy Series," which recently hosted the talk "A Man By My Own Design: Reimagining Masculinity From a Trans Experience."

"In a society where gender roles often lead to toxic masculinity, [Tiq] Milan discusses being a 'man of his own design' where he re-constructs masculinity from a feminist perspective," the school said.

The school hosted spoken-word poet Staceyann Chin for MotherStruck!, which detail's Chin's "personal journey to motherhood as a single woman, lesbian and activist who does not have health insurance or a 'serious, stable financial set up,' but wants to have a child."

Brown also shies away from using asterisks out of the fear that the symbol is not inclusive enough.

"Trans is an umbrella term that includes, but is not limited to, the following identities: transgender, transsexual, a person of trans experience, genderqueer, androgynous, third gender, agender, non-binary gender, two-spirit, and any other non-normative gender identity," the school explains on its TRANS@Brown resources page.

"Some people also like to use Trans* as an umbrella term," the school explains. "Because there are varied views and some disagreements on the inclusivity of the asterisk we are currently choosing not to use it but we recognize and respect all of the different terminology that people like to use."