On September 7, 2023, the University of Arizona’s (UA) College of Nursing and Office of Public Safety released a letter stating that UA nursing faculty received threatening calls and emails. The threats were linked to a seminar presentation that resulted in public backlash for its inclusion of slides encouraging gender-affirming care for children.
On September 6, the online group LibsofTikTok posted a series of social media messages that included screenshots from a presentation used by an anonymous professor during a three-day seminar for around 30 doctoral students in the final semester of a nursing practice program. The posts included photos of slides that encouraged nurses to start asking children during their year three well visit whether they feel like a boy, girl, neither, or both. It commented “SCOOP: University of Arizona nursing school is teaching future nurses that 3-year-olds can know they are transgender. They’re also being taught to start questioning patients as young as 3 about their gender.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, LibsofTikTok is a “popular anti-LGBTQ+ Twitter account.”
The LibsofTikTok post sparked a public backlash against the nursing school, prompting threats against members of the nursing school community. In addition, two State Board of Nursing complaints were filed against the professor who gave the presentation.
On September 7, UA’s College of Nursing and Office of Public Safety issued a campus wide letter outlining new safety measures that were being put in place after members of the nursing school had received “inappropriate, concerning and/or disturbing emails and voicemails.” These measures included restricting building access to those with ID cards and increased campus police patrols near the nursing school’s building.
On September 8, UA issued a statement distancing itself from the content of the presentation, writing, “The College of Nursing does not recommend or advocate for young children to be asked gender-related questions in wellness checks.” UA’s statement prompted pushback from College of Nursing faculty members, who felt unsupported, and apparently played a role in the resignation of the professor who gave the original presentation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats aimed at intimidating the higher education community and disrupting classes and campus life. Members of the public have a responsibility to respect institutional autonomy and refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education. State and higher education authorities have an obligation to take available measures to protect the functioning of the higher education space, as well as a responsibility to protect the freedom of scholars to set academically appropriate curricula that are well grounded in existing evidence, free from political interference. Threats and intimidation by members of the public undermine academic freedom and university autonomy.