Earlier this semester, Northern Arizona University English professor Anne Scott subtracted a point from a student’s paper for using the word “mankind,” instead of a more gender-inclusive term like “humanity” or “humankind.”
Scott told the students they’d be graded on several things, including guidelines set by the Modern Language Association.
“Because I’m helping students prepare for the workplace, jobs and basically industry standards for style I make sure that they use gender-inclusive language,” Scott said. “Their choices in words matter a great deal.”
Student Cailin Jeffers told the website Campus Reform what happened. Campus Reform calls itself a “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system exposing bias and abuse on colleges” throughout the country. Jeffers, who did not respond to interview requests with KJZZ, told Fox News why Scott docked a point.
“She told me that the word mankind only refers to men. It doesn’t actually include all of humanity,” Jeffers said.
"I never said that at all," said Scott in an email. "I said that this word is a gender-biased word, through its etymology, and that it can be used in a sexist way. The word 'mankind' can mean 'all men' and 'all people,' but the trend is that we now have better words to mean 'all people."
Junior Floyd Perkins is also in Scott’s class.
“Really it was so over dramatized because it’s really not asking that much,” Perkins said.
But Campus Reform went as far as to post Scott’s phone number and email address online. And Scott’s name was added to a website called the Professor Watch List — a list of professors that “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” Links were shared 60,000 times, tweeted 9,000 times and Scott received hundreds of messages like this one:
“The definition for mankind means humanity. Does that mean that humans are sexist? Go put a gun to your head.”
NAU criminology professor Luis Fernandez has been studying this phenomenon and said it’s an alt-right political strategy. And he said once students post accusations online, it becomes something much bigger.
“Accusations then go a little bit viral,” Fernandez said. “They might start in Facebook or they might get picked up by Breitbart. Maybe they sift up higher to Fox News. And if it goes particularly big there’s lots of people that then begin to target and harass that particular person. That has happened and it’s happening all across the nation.”
Fernandez actually became a target when he participated in a public forum called “Specter of Fascism?” Six professors discussed whether the current Trump administration is anything like Hitler’s authoritarian regime.
Melissa Miller, a political science major, filmed the forum with her phone.
In the video, a professor at a podium talking about “the Trump regime’s cocktail of fear, racist scapegoating as an implement of mobilization and delegitimizing the press.”
Professor Fernandez was there to talk about the alt-right’s use of internet activism. He saw Miller recording and singled her out as an example. So Miller posted a video on her Facebook page about her experience.
“I hear him say that, ‘There was a student in here moments ago named Melissa Miller,’” Miller said. “‘And she is paid by Turning Point USA, and she is filming to get teachers in trouble basically.’ I’m sorry I’m very upset. Four professors of the school standing all right there letting this happen teachers in attendance. Nobody said a thing.”
Miller said she felt bullied and shared the forum video with Campus Reform.
The site misattributed the video to the wrong professor Lori Poloni-Staudinger. So she received hate messages.
“One person said, ‘When are they going to understand (they meaning the professors) are going to understand they will become the hunted and have to pay with their lives,’” Poloni-Staudinger said. “Somebody posted to YouTube, ‘This is when mass murder would be warranted.’”
Poloni-Staudinger said conservative students think that teachers are targeting them.
“We are not targeting them,” Poloni-Staudinger said. “But by going on social media and trying to perpetuate this narrative that we are attacking a student what they’re doing is inciting violence.”
Poloni-Staudinger said students need to be mindful that their actions have consequences — whether that’s hurting a professor’s career or leaving a mark on social media that comes back to harm the student’s reputation.
Student Cailin Jeffers has scrubbed her Facebook page and posted a statement saying her issue lies with the policy, not the professor. The other student Melissa Miller told her Facebook followers she plans to transfer at the end of the semester.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include an additional statement from Ann Scott regarding the use of the term "mankind."