Backlash during student elections 2024: The debate on pronouns 


On Feb. 27, 2024, candidate profile videos for the upcoming student elections were posted to UVUSA’s Instagram account, @uvustudents. Comments both in dissent and support of the candidate’s spoken, preferred pronouns emerged. Simone Goodheart, vice president of engagement candidate, was the target of backlash for using she/her pronouns.

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Candidates running for student council during the 2024 race were met with backlash when their profile videos were uploaded to the UVUSA’s Instagram on Feb. 27, 2024.   

Comments flooded @uvustudents, both in support and dissent of the candidates and whether they spoke their chosen pronouns aloud in their videos. Though each candidate’s preferred pronouns were listed on a banner in the posts, only a few of the candidates verbally emphasized them.   

“You lost my vote with the pronouns,” said one comment. “If you open with ‘my pronouns are’ i automatically dont wanna listen to you. Forced or nonforced smh,” wrote another. The discourse on pronouns appeared in several comments on each candidate’s video, including those who chose not to state their pronouns. “I like this guy. Didn’t feel the need to state his pronouns. Hats off to you sir,” said another user. 

Many of the comments centered on candidate Simone Goodheart, a transgender student who ran for vice president of engagement. Goodheart’s video attracted many comments focusing on her gender orientation and chosen pronouns of she/her.   

In several comments, things took a turn for the personal. “Yea your a guy dressed as a woman no thanks you wouldn’t get my vote at all,” said one comment. “You’re a man,” another person commented. “You can’t give yourself a fake name to match your fake boobs and claim to be a female.”  

The Review reached out to individuals who commented, asking them to expand on their thoughts shared via social media. Joseph Curtis, a student at UVU, wrote out responses on each of the candidate profile videos. 

“I think [pronouns are] unnecessarily dumb and stupid and make it harder for society to function,” Curtis stated in his interview with The Review. “The more we have to worry about offending people around us, the less fulfilling life is … Like we all walk on eggshells because we might offend someone. If we do, we could get canceled, deleted, lose our job, etc. if we offend someone with the wrong pronouns … [Candidates] simply announcing their pronouns does not infringe on my free speech, but the whole concept behind pronouns is an attack on free speech and the enforcing thereof.”  

Curtis said he would be more likely to vote for a candidate who didn’t state their pronouns because “when a candidate announces their pronouns like that, they are telling me that they are woke. They’ve accepted the propaganda. They have succumbed to the agenda. They don’t support my ideals.”  

Similarly, student Jett Featherston said he would not vote for a candidate who listed their pronouns. “If you state your pronouns to me it’s showing insecurity about [who] you are but also [you’re] bowing down to this agenda,” said Featherston. “I will not vote for someone who states [their] pronouns. We can tell if you are a man or a woman. There are very physical differences in the TWO genders.”  

The day after the videos were posted, Simone Goodheart released a statement addressing the backlash. “I am and will always be a Proud Wolverine. When deciding to run for VP of Engagement, it came with the understanding that there would be trolls and people who would be mean to me purely for me being trans. This was a risk I accepted because I believe what I can offer my university outweighs the negativity that a few trolls have. I am a proud Wolverine through and through, and I always will be. From my many amazing experiences, my advocacy work, and even just the amazing people I get to see every day on campus, I have seen the very best of what UVU has to offer. When it comes to UVU, the positivity will always outweigh the negativity.” 

The Review also sat down with Goodheart to discuss the events following the release of the videos.   

“I expected the hate comments almost immediately,” Goodheart stated. “As a trans person, I think it’s something that people are very aware of right now. And people are very much willing to attack trans identities just for existing … Anytime a trans woman is visible, she’s going to receive a lot of negative feedback for nothing more than just her existing.”    

Alongside those disputing the usage of pronouns were many students showing their love and support of Goodheart and her chosen pronouns.   

In her comment on Simone Goodheart’s candidate video, student Skye King wrote, “The hate comments under this post are INSANE. Simone, if you read this, we love you and have your back. You have my vote and support.”   

To King, the motivation behind commenting was to combat the negative comments and show that there were people who supported Goodheart. “I usually don’t comment on posts ever but when I saw some hate comments,” King told The Review. “I imagined what it would be like to be Simone and reading those. I would feel horrible, discouraged, and scared. So, I wanted to stand up for her and show support.” 

“I don’t think that [the comments were] a good representation of UVU,” said student Chase Schetselaar. “I don’t like how this paints a picture of UVU. Because, frankly, [the] number of students that I’ve met during my time here have generally been respectful and open to learning. And also, it just comes off as immature and insecure. It’s internet trolling, is what it is. It’s one of those things where you kind of just want to, you know, tap him on the shoulder and go, ‘Hey, buddy, if you don’t like this, you can just keep scrolling, it’s fine.’”   

“If you’re getting hung up on pronouns, I feel like there’s a bigger issue going on that you need to look deep within yourself and figure your own issue out before posting on Instagram. Because some of those comments – they just seem insensitive, and deeply insecure,” Schetselaar continued. 

According to Bailey Baird, coordinator for UVU’s LGBTQ+ Student Services office, the utilization of pronouns in the LGBTQ+ community plays a fundamental role in affirming individuals’ identities and validating their experiences. “For many within the community, traditional pronouns may not accurately reflect their gender identity, leading to feelings of dysphoria and marginalization. Respectfully using someone’s correct pronouns fosters a sense of dignity and acceptance.”     

Ian Gotcher, UVU’s newest vice president of academics, spoke about the process the candidates went through when making the videos. “We were given a list of questions to answer in the video, and the first among them was to ‘State your name, pronouns, and what you’re running for.’ So that’s why I and many of the other candidates said what our preferred pronouns were in the video.”  

“With regard to pronoun usage, I do it when I’m asked because it doesn’t inconvenience me,” said Gotcher. “It makes communication easier, 100% of people have pronouns that they prefer that people use, and it shows basic respect and decency to others.”  

The backlash from the UVUSA’s candidate profile videos follows two pieces of legislation signed by Gov. Spencer Cox earlier this year, drastically limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the state. Bill H.B. 257 prohibits transgender Utahns from accessing any restroom “open to the general public,” and H.B. 261 bars public institutions from having offices specifically designed to promote diversity. 

“I think the anti-DEI bills don’t understand what the work [groups like LGBTQ+ Student Services] do is,” said Goodheart, who works at the office as a student admin. “I think it misunderstands it and tries to build a villain out of DEI.” 

Goodheart, speaking from the perspective of a student, addressed how people who are anti-DEI might paint programs falling under this category as a discriminatory resource that privileges some groups over others. “That is not the case,” she said. “[The] entire goal is to equal the playing field, make sure we have a safe community, and make sure we have the proper resources to advocate.” 

UVU’s response to the new bills was emailed out to the campus community from Provost Wayne Vaught and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Rasha Qudisat on Jan. 30, 2024. They stated that UVU, as an open-admissions university, would continue to help all students achieve success, but that some programs and initiatives may have to be “adjusted.” 

“That’s a lived reality of our community … There are students who cannot come out to their parents, who don’t have proper resources, or [who] lose their parent’s healthcare as soon as they come out as trans,” said Goodheart. “There are hate comments that trans people will get on Instagram videos and stuff – that’s a lived reality. And the anti-DEI bills don’t acknowledge the lived reality of marginalized people. They assume everything is okay when that’s not the case, and we can’t ignore that. That’s my fear with the DEI bills, is it’s trying to encourage people to ignore actual reality of marginalized folks.” 

When the winners of the 2024 student elections were announced, Simone Goodheart’s name was not among them. The Review spoke with Goodheart about whether she thought the backlash on Instagram and her chosen gender orientation impacted the outcome of the race.  

“I think yes, it definitely impacted it in a lot of ways. There are people who didn’t even give me a chance as a candidate because I was trans.”  

Goodheart discussed how her work with the university, specifically with groups like Spectrum and the Progressive Student Alliance, helped her bring a lot of qualified perspectives to her candidacy. “I have a strong background in working with this university … and I was really excited for it. And I do believe if I were to have approached it from a non-visibly trans perspective, I would have been looked at as a completely different candidate.” 

Goodheart, despite the backlash she received, remained optimistic about the state of the university and the good memories she has made at UVU. 

“I think that genuinely UVU is my university, I feel at home here. I feel connected … And the online haters are going to be there. They’re going to say things. And it’s a lived reality, for a lot of trans people, we’re not given the same light as a lot of cis people. We’re often looked at with a different perspective, and that can hurt.”  

Goodheart continued, “But if I were to give advice to other marginalized communities on campus, including the trans community, never stop being yourself. It hurts way more than living authentically. And that’s what I’d say … I want to condemn hate and I want to encourage university resources to be deeply intentional about how they approach marginalized communities, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, instead of acting with no intention and just acting as a response.” 

The LGBTQ+ Student Services office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and offers resources for housing, group therapy and a list of all-gender bathrooms. For more resources, students can work with Crisis Services and the SafeUT app, as well as visit with an Ombud to discuss any complaints or concerns.