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University of Copenhagen
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Spiteful attack on student in mass email sent to the whole faculty

Inclusive forms of address — An innocent email with a questionnaire to students at the Faculty of Social Sciences escalated to a malicious shaming of non-binary people in a thread last week. And what does management do about it? Nothing.

At the end of last week, an email was sent out to all students at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). More than 6,000 people received the email which contained a questionnaire that two of the faculty’s master’s students wanted responses for.

In a response to this email, there was one person who drew attention to the fact that the questionnaire only gave two possible options under the category ‘gender’. This meant that the person, who is a non-binary student, could not continue their responses.

Read also: Inclusive speech: Teaching staff at Humanities now being urged to use gender neutral terms

The tone of this email was constructive. The person formulated their message in a matter-of-fact, polite, manner, and wished the thesis students good luck. This email also went out to everyone. I don’t know whether this was intentional, but that was certainly what happened.

Public shaming helped by cheerleaders

Then an unexpected twist happened. The person who would like to participate in the questionnaire, but who was unable to do so because of the gender question, was now publicly shamed for their email, especially by two people who formulated rather vicious attacks on the person – also in a common email that went out to everyone.

If this is how cases of offensive behaviour are handled by management, then I feel offended and not heard – and I was just a spectator to this.

I find their reactions completely unacceptable, and it became more and more absurd, as the discussion thread now continued on and on, with many people asking to be taken off the e-mail group, and others writing, for example, ‘keep this chat going, this is funny.’ It was very unpleasant to experience people sitting at home cheering on aggressive messages directed at one person.

I forwarded Thursday 24th October the email correspondence to the dean of the faculty Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen and to rector Henrik Wegener. They replied that they were aware of the case, and that they were in the process of handling it.

Management closes it down, but ignores the substance

Management’s handling of the case turned out to be a news item on the intranet portal KUnet for students of the Faculty of Social Sciences on Friday 25th October. It states that the joint mailing list can no longer be used. That’s it.

I am stuck here, baffled, and with no sense of closure.

How can this be a sufficient reaction from management when an entire faculty has witnessed public shaming of people who do not identify with binary genders? The email thread goes nuts on the very same day that the university adopts new guidelines for offensive behaviour.

Why does management not comment on the substance of this case? Can it really be the case that neither the Faculty of Social Sciences nor the University of Copenhagen are going to make more of this case?

It seems that management is concerned about engaging with the whole gender debate, but should you not expect them to take an active stand in a case like this? Especially as the University of Copenhagen profiles itself as a diverse university that does not tolerate offensive behaviour.

If this is how cases of offensive behaviour are handled by management, then I feel offended and not heard – and I was just a spectator to this.

READ: Response from Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Social Sciences Andreas De Neergaard to this opinion piece: Associate Dean responds to criticism: At the Faculty of Social Sciences we have little sympathy for this debating style