On Sept. 6, the Libs of TikTok account announced to its more than two million followers on X that it had a “SCOOP.” Created by Chaya Raichik, the account often targets transgender people.
“University of Arizona nursing school is teaching future nurses that 3-year-olds can know they are transgender,” the post said. “They’re also being taught to start questioning patients as young as three about their gender.”
The post included photos of two slides or webpages, which the university subsequently said were used in a session for doctoral-level nursing students. The first said, “Some kids feel like a girl on the inside, some kids feel like a boy on the inside, and some kids feel like neither, both, or someone else,” and suggested asking, “What about you? How do you feel on the inside? There’s no right or wrong answer.”
The next slide, under “When to ask,” said, “Start around age 3, during the well visit.”
The Mayo Clinic, among other sources, says most children label their own gender identities by age 3. But consensus is lacking on when and in what circumstances health practitioners should ask children about their identity; an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman said his group’s policy doesn’t get that specific.
An Arizona faculty member told Inside Higher Ed the presentation came from the Fenway Institute in Boston, which hosts the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center. A Fenway spokesman said, “We didn’t create those specific slides and don’t have any way of knowing precisely where that information may have come from, but it is part of the guidance we share around gender-affirming care, which is backed up by published, peer-reviewed literature.”
Outside of any nuanced medical care debate, Libs of TikTok’s post ignited conservative backlash. Elon Musk, X’s owner (nearly 159 million followers), replied to the post with a single exclamation point; Lauren Boebert, Republican congresswoman from Colorado (2.9 million followers), replied, “I’m so over this crap. FULL STOP!!!”; and the Arizona State Senate Republicans sent out a news release titled, “Senate Republicans Condemn University of Arizona Nursing School Curriculum Aimed at Stealing the Innocence of Young Children.”
In that statement, State Senator Janae Shamp wrote that she was “absolutely sickened that this institution of higher learning is perpetuating the lie that a person’s gender is based off feelings and not their God-given biological sex established upon conception. This is completely groomer garbage that strives to confuse our kids in an effort to cater to the evil that is being accepted by today’s society.”
Following the post, employees at Arizona’s College of Nursing say they’ve received threatening calls and emails—especially chilling just a year after a University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor was shot and killed in his workplace. And, two decades ago, a College of Nursing student shot three professors there to death before killing himself. (This paragraph has been updated to include the 2002 shooting.)
The College of Nursing started requiring card access to enter its Tucson building and asked campus police to increase patrols.
Faculty members in that college and elsewhere said their colleague who taught the class submitted her resignation. Lisa Kiser, a clinical assistant professor at the college, said two State Board of Nursing complaints have been filed against the faculty member, targeting her license, since the Libs of TikTok post appeared. Faculty members wouldn’t name the colleague.
“The threats against her are increasing,” Kiser said. “Every day a new complaint has been filed against her, and it’s very well organized.”
“All institutions of higher learning have to come together and really have a clear plan for how to protect faculty and staff and how to protect academic freedom—and, for us, evidence-based care, because we’re nurses—against a small group of outside forces that are very destructive,” Kiser said.
Faculty members have said the university’s response fell short in that regard. Two days after the Libs of TikTok post, Arizona issued a written statement that began, “The College of Nursing does not recommend or advocate for young children to be asked gender-related questions in wellness checks.”
The statement went on to say, “The college does not have a policy or position on this issue and does not integrate this type of training or education into its curriculum. The college teaches that practitioners should always work with the parents and guardians and with their permission, within their scope of the practice, and in alignment with the employing organization’s guidance when treating pediatric patients.”
The university explained that the “slides in question were from a 40-minute session on complex issues nurse practitioners face in clinical practice for the purpose of encouraging discussion.” It said they were “presented to 31 doctor of nursing practice students, all of whom are already practicing nurses,” and that “the material is not provided to undergraduate nursing students.”
“The College of Nursing faculty members share evidence-based information, but do not recommend any specific practice guidelines related to gender-related issues,” the statement said. “Students are taught that providers need to choose their own approach to such issues.”
Inside Higher Ed asked the university Wednesday and Thursday for an interview with the nursing college’s dean, Hyochol Ahn, or another official. But the university only sent emailed responses to questions.
A university spokeswoman wrote in an email that there “were no disciplinary measures considered or taken” against the faculty member. Her colleagues said she resigned, at least partly, because she felt a lack of support from university leaders.
Carol Brochin, an associate professor in the College of Education, said the faculty member later asked to rescind her resignation, but the College of Nursing refused. The university didn’t say whether this was true.
“It’s sort of irrelevant that the Libs of TikTok posted this,” Brochin wrote. “What’s really harmful is that senior leaders then posted a statement sort of aligning with this right-wing attack on trans care.”
On Sept. 22, two weeks after the university’s public statement, Ahn and Dr. Michael D. Dake, Arizona’s senior vice president for health sciences, sent College of Nursing employees a new statement. The university provided it to Inside Higher Ed upon request.
“We fully support—and expect—our faculty to use evidence-based research in their teaching,” they wrote. “We further respect the professional discretion of our faculty in teaching our students to engage in a wide variety of topics they may encounter in the field. We remain committed to upholding the fundamental principles of academic freedom.”
At a Faculty Senate meeting Monday, the Senate’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provided a report denouncing the original university statement, saying it “did not affirm the right and responsibility of faculty to teach principles of evidence-based care to nursing students, including care for LGBTQ+ people, or express support for the faculty members involved.”
“In addition, the statement did not address the violent threats that faculty and staff at the College were experiencing stemming from the incident, nor did it express support for the health and well-being of members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the DEI committee report said. “Finally, it did not express a commitment on the part of the College to principles of academic freedom.”
Thaddeus Pace, an associate professor of nursing, psychiatry and psychology at the College of Nursing who serves on the DEI committee, told Inside Higher Ed the university’s initial statement didn’t include “any kind of support whatsoever” for those teaching gender-affirming care.
Leila Hudson, who, as chair of the faculty, leads Arizona’s Faculty Senate, also criticized the university’s response but said she didn’t want to focus on community infighting. “In the current political climate around the country, it’s imperative that faculty stand in solidarity with our entire community, including administration, in defense of these core academic principles,” including academic freedom, Hudson said.
“We evolve our standards of research and knowledge and practice by engaging with one another in rational scientific discourse,” she said. “We don’t silence one another, we don’t bully one another, we don’t intimidate one another, and that’s not a welcome intrusion from the outside political environment.”