South Dakota Policy Forbids Pronouns and Tribal Affiliations From Being Included in Email Correspondence

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Jun 11, 2024

Despite many people trying to encourage others to include their pronouns in correspondence, the University of South Dakota has now banned students and staff from including their pronouns and tribal affiliations in email signatures.

Staff have been threatened with suspension and possible termination if they don’t remove their pronouns and tribal affiliations from their email signatures, amidst the current efforts to remove diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from education facilities.

Pronoun Lessons Have Been Banned

The use of pronouns has only been introduced on a mainstream level in the last few years. When one school wanted to teach its students pronouns, members of the school and local community were far from pleased.

A person holding up a whiteboard that says, “Hello, my pronouns are.”

Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

It led to staff receiving threatening phone calls and having their personal information published online, which eventually led to the cancellation of the lesson. 


Universities Are Abandoning DEI Initiatives

Diversity initiatives are another thing that were once in high demand but are now being abandoned. Many DEI staff have their jobs hanging in the balance, as many of these positions no longer exist.

Five people with their hands in the center of a table. Each person has different skin tones.

Source: Clay Banks/Unsplash

While these universities maintain that students and staff from diverse backgrounds will still be treated with dignity and respect, some aren’t quite as convinced and have been protesting the cancellation of these initiatives.

Staff Are Leaving in Protest of the Loss of DEI

Even though not all staff at universities will lose their jobs over the loss of DEI initiatives, staff that are a part of diverse groups, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, are leaving their jobs because of it.

A person holding their fists together. Each finger has a different colored letter on it, which spells out “LGBTQIA+.”

Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

A study found that 36% of LGBTQIA+ college professors have considered leaving the profession because of this. This is due to the loss of DEI initiatives making them feel that they are not being supported by their institution or department.

South Dakota’s Conflict With Tribes

The University of South Dakota’s new policy of not allowing tribal affiliations to be listed in email signatures comes after the state’s long-standing history of conflict with tribes.

A person standing in a field wearing traditional Native American dress.

Source: Jess Lindner/Unsplash

The conflicts have even led Kristi Noem, Donald Trump’s proposed Vice President if he gets voted into office, to be banned from the majority of South Dakota’s tribal lands by the tribes themselves due to the allegations she made against them. 

Kristi Noem Wants a Ban on Pronouns

Noem initially wrote to the regents, who had railed against liberal ideologies being present on college campuses.

Kristi Noem speaking into a mic. In front of her is a black placard that says, “Mrs. Noem” in gold.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wikimedia Commons

In the letter, she made it clear that she wanted drag shows removed from campus and any references to preferred pronouns removed. Then, the university’s policy came into play.


Kristi Noem Appointed South Dakota Board Members

The board was encouraged to vote on what to do with these matters. However, all of the board members for the university were appointed by Noem.

Kristi Noem stands before some trees, talking into a mic.

Source: Matt Johnson/Wikimedia Commons

This comes amidst the current attempts by Republicans to limit the DEI initiatives across education, with only a third of U.S. states having taken action against it.


University of South Dakota Staff Threatened

Two faculty members at the University of South Dakota have been threatened with termination because their pronouns and tribal affiliations are in their email signatures. 

One of the buildings at the University of South Dakota. The building is surrounded by trees and a path leading up to it.

Source: Ammodramus/Wikimedia Commons

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw and her husband, John Little, were told they had 5 days to remove their pronouns and tribal affiliations from their email signatures. If they failed to do so, administrators would decide whether to suspend them (with or without pay) or to terminate their contracts.


Pronouns Have Been Banned for K-12 Students

Pronouns being banned was initially meant for K-12 students. However, it appears that some colleges and universities have also taken on these policies.

A rainbow background with the words “they/them” in front.

Source: Katie Rainbow/Unsplash

Most of these institutions are religious. For example, Houghton University fired two dorm directors when they refused to remove their pronouns from their email signatures. Some are now worried that the policies undertaken by Houghton and South Dakota will extend into other colleges and universities.


Republicans Are Testing Discriminatory Laws

Many believe that the Republican push to limit DEI in educational facilities is because they are trying to test the public’s compliance with discriminatory laws and see how much further they will go.

The Republican logo inside a red circle, which is a red elephant with three white stars on top.

Source: Republican Party/Wikimedia Commons

As the current climate and bans on DEI initiatives have already encouraged these institutions to limit the use of DEI, many are worried about how much further Republicans will be able to push and how much more compliant these places will become. 


How the Policy Affects Native Americans

One issue that has come up is that Little and Shirt-Shaw have said it is obvious that the university’s board hadn’t considered how this new policy would affect Native Americans. 

A Native American in traditional dress.

Source: Andrew James/Unsplash

It wasn’t made clear by the university whether any tribal leaders had been consulted on the matter. What is also unclear is what the short- and long-term implications of this could be. 


The American Civil Liberties Union Is Assessing the Policy

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is reviewing the University of South Dakota’s new policy and considering any necessary actions.

A yellow, white, purple and black sign that says, “Correct pronoun usage saves lives.”

Source: Ingenious0range/Unsplash

Limiting the use of pronouns and tribal affiliations only serves to limit free speech. It has already been shown that when this happens, there are always consequences, even if they aren’t always known.