Two employees at Houghton University, a small Christian institution in New York, have been terminated for refusing to remove their preferred pronouns from their work email signatures. Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot, both residence hall directors, found themselves at odds with university administrators who claimed that including pronouns violated the school’s policy.
Zelaya and Wilmot were asked to remove the pronouns, but upon refusal, were relieved of their duties.
Administrators at Houghton University, a small Christian institution in New York, asked two employees to remove the words “she/her” and “he/him” from their email signatures. When they refused to do so, both were fired. https://t.co/uDCbZ5VvfD
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 19, 2023
The employees explained that their decision to include pronouns was driven by the fact that their gender-neutral names have led to instances of being misgendered during email exchanges in the past. They viewed the inclusion of pronouns in their signatures not only as a practical solution but also as a way to foster inclusivity within the institution.
On the other hand, Houghton University insists that “extraneous” elements, including Scripture quotes, be removed from email signatures.
However, University spokesman Michael Blankenship emphasized that the termination was not only about the use of pronouns, adding that the university remains committed to providing the Christian education promised to its students.
In Zelaya’s termination letter, she was explicitly informed that her refusal to remove the pronouns led to her dismissal. The letter also accused her of making “defamatory statements” in the school’s student newspaper.
While Zelaya acknowledged a difference of opinion on Christian living in an interview, she speculated that the university aimed to appeal to conservative beliefs. She also expressed her concerns about the divided nature of today’s society, where ideological labels often overshadow genuine care for individuals.
This incident comes at a time when schools and workplaces grapple with the challenges of operating in an increasingly politically polarized environment, where discussions surrounding gender identity are becoming more prevalent among employees and students.
The story has attracted significant attention, with a petition garnering nearly 600 alumni signatures in support of Zelaya and Wilmot.
Responding to the signature, Houghton University President Wayne Lewis Jr. reaffirmed the institution’s commitment to the Wesleyan Church, which “unapologetically privileges an orthodox Christian worldview, rooted in the Wesleyan theological tradition.”
Lewis stressed that employees of the school are expected to understand and align with the commitments of the job.