What is the LSC Pronoun Project?
This project arose from the Mindfulness and Equity Grant that the Lake Superior College campus was granted for the 2019-2020 academic year. The goal of the project is to improve pronoun consciousness on campus to embody LSC campus values of equity and inclusion. With this goal in mind, the project challenges all members of the LSC community to:
- add their preferred pronouns to their email signatures;
- introduce themselves with preferred pronouns and ask students for their pronouns at the start of each semester or when relevant;
- add pronoun identifiers to ID badges and door placards.
What does it mean when we talk about preferred pronouns?
According to the Human Resources Campaign, “Gender pronouns (such as “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers”) refer to people that you are talking about. Gender pronouns are the way that we constantly refer to each other’s gender identity – except we often don’t think a whole lot about them. Usually we interpret or “read” a person’s gender based on their outward appearance and expression, and “assign” a pronoun.
“But our reading may not be a correct interpretation of the person’s gender identity. Because gender identity is internal — an internal sense of one’s own gender — we don’t necessarily know a person’s correct gender pronoun by looking at them. Additionally, a person may identify as genderfluid or genderqueer and may not identify along the binary of either male or female (e.g. “him” or “her”). Some people identify as both masculine and feminine, or neither. A genderqueer or non-binary identified person may prefer a gender-neutral pronoun such as the “they” (e.g. “I know Sam. They work in the Accounting Department”).”
Most people identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Those cisgender identifying people would likely use he/him/his pronouns or she/her/hers pronouns as would many people who identify as genderqueer or non-binary. They/them/their pronouns are often used as well. Some other less common pronouns are listed in the table below from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (which also has a very helpful website discussing pronoun usage).
Watch the “What are Pronouns?” video for some basic information about preferred pronouns.
What are the benefits of introducing ourselves with preferred pronouns and asking students for theirs?
The “Sharing Your Pronouns” video explains some of the reasoning behind sharing pronouns. This infographic is another useful starting point.
For those who do not identify as genderqueer or non-binary, it may seem unnecessary to use pronouns as part of introductions or email signatures. However, by indicating preferred pronouns, individuals identify themselves as understanding the role of pronouns in identity. It opens the door for others to share their own pronouns and for thoughtful discussions about identity and pronouns if concerns arise in the classroom or in personal interactions.
For example, a student with a non-binary identity may be listed on the Classlist by a name that is traditionally male, yet that individual might come to class presenting as more traditionally female. If an instructor starts of introductions with mentioning preferred pronouns (“I’m Professor Johnson, and I use he/him pronouns”, for example) and asks the rest of the class to do the same, that student who we might suspect to be gender non-binary is given a safe way to introduce himself/herself/themself. This can help solidify a stronger teacher-student relationship as well as ease any future tensions that could arise.
Beyond this, in the online classroom especially, instructors are often presented with students in their Classlists who are not obviously male or female based on name alone. Some names are used for more than one gender; some names may be less familiar due to cultural differences. By asking for preferred pronouns in online classes, we reduce the risk of misgendering students, both for instructors themselves and for other students.
For example, instructors often use Discussion Boards to help online students engage with each other. A student might respond to a peer with language like this: “I agree with what Taylor said. His analysis was really interesting.” If students have not been introduced to each other with preferred pronouns, this interaction could lead to confusion for all students as well as distress for the students involved if Taylor has been misgendered. Instructors might also inadvertently misgender Taylor, and this could lead to larger concerns as discussed below.
What are the dangers of failing to identify students by preferred pronouns?
In cases like those described above, using incorrect pronouns might seem like a simple mistake. However, if a student does truly identify as non-binary or genderqueer, a misuse of pronouns, especially repeated over time, can feel, at best, disinterested and at worst, malicious. In 2019, Inside Higher Ed. reported on a recent study that found “Gender-nonconforming and transgender students are four times more likely to report mental health issues compared to the rest of their peers.”
The study also noted that while only one percent of cisgender students (students who identify as the gender they were assigned as birth) had attempted suicide, three percent of gender-minority students had done so.
The UCLA School of Law Williams Institute found that suicidal thoughts and attempts increased in transgender identifying adults who “had been denied equal treatment because they were transgender.”
Affirming gender identity by asking for preferred pronouns can help create a more safe and inclusive environment for our students. However statistics like those above illustrate how failing to do so can have consequences that extend far beyond classrooms and campus hallways.
What are some practices that help improve pronoun consciousness with students?
Here is a video that walks through some scenarios that might help illustrate how to ask for correct pronouns (video).
- List your own pronouns in your email signature, syllabus, on your office door, on a laptop sticker, on your business card, and/or on your nametag/lanyard.
As of right now, LSC does not have a standard email signature. Thus, faculty and staff can create their own formatting. Information about how to change email signatures in Outlook can be found at the end of this document. A basic pronoun inclusive email signature might look like this:
Faculty, Math Department
Lake Superior College
- You might also specifically include pronoun and gender affirming language in your syllabus. The University of Maryland has some excellent examples and sample language that can help with this, including this simple statement:
“In this classroom, we will respect and refer to people using the names and personal pronouns that they share.”
- Introduce yourself to students and mention your preferred pronouns: “Hi, I’m Jane Doe, and I go by Jane. My pronouns are she/her/hers.”
- Write your preferred name and pronouns on the whiteboard at the start of the first day of class.
- In online classes, include your pronouns in your introductory notes, emails, and/or videos. It might be good to do this in multiple places.
- For in person or synchronous online classes, you might verbally ask your students for their preferred pronouns. If you do a full class icebreaker, you can ask for them at that point, for all students. You might ask for it when you do attendance for the first time: “When I call your name, let me know preferred name or nickname, pronouns, and what brings you to LSC.” Some interesting ways of doing this are listed in the faculty testimonials below.
- You might also choose to ask for pronouns more privately. For instance, you might have students fill out introductory cards or a first day survey or piece of writing that they turn in to you in which “preferred pronouns” is one question. However, if students will be interacting with each other in the class, it may be important to make pronouns a more public aspect of introductions to maintain an inclusive group environment for discussions and collaboration.
- In online classes that involve discussions or groupwork, you might choose to have students provide pronouns as part of a full group introduction in Discussion Boards. This makes preferred pronouns normalized for those smaller one-on-one or group interactions.
- If you work with students more one-on-one or in small groups rather than a full class, making your own pronouns visible is probably the most important way to normalize preferred pronoun usage. In this way, email signatures, name tags, and door signs are especially important.
According to the University of California San Franciso, “verbal introductions and check-ins are great opportunities to solicit gender pronouns. As names and pronouns can change over time, it is preferable to regularly incorporate these questions into meetings and introductions. Asking about a person’s pronouns may initially feel awkward or uncomfortable, but it is preferable to making hurtful assumptions and using the wrong pronoun. Here are some ways you can do this:
“What pronouns do you use?”
“How would you like me to refer to you?”
“How would you like to be addressed?”
“Can you remind me which pronouns you like for yourself?”
“My name is Joshua and my pronouns are he, him, and his. What about you?”
What are some ways LSC faculty and staff have tried to be more pronoun inclusive with students?
I always have my students fill out an information sheet the first week of class, both online and on-ground. It asks some information about their lives, including if they work, have other commitments, how they will manage their time, etc. About two years ago, I added a question about preferred pronouns. At first, a few students didn’t even know what that meant, but now, I get good feedback. I also include my own personal pronouns in all email communications and in my video introduction.
–Amy Jo Swing, English Faculty
I’ve used two pronoun/identity related activities in my classrooms.
1) Icebreaker introductions where students include their name and pronouns, and other information about themselves.
2) Paper table-tents that students create with “Whatever name they would like us to call them” and place in front of themselves for the first two weeks of class.
Both of these are simple gestures I’ve implemented to try and help EVERYONE feel as comfortable as they can at LSC.
–Matt Whitehill, Geology and Geography Faculty
At the start of the semester, I introduce myself by name and how I want to be referred to. Usually, it is something like “I’m Tara, call me Tara or McCoy, but please not Mrs. McCoy. My pronouns are she/her/hers.” I try to make it a seamless transition to normalizing sharing pronouns (which are also listed in my syllabus). Until recently, I did not ask students for their preferred pronouns because I was worried about putting them on the spot. However, a conversation with a member of the LSC’s LGBTQ+ club helped me understand that pronouns cannot be a private aspect of one’s identity. If a person identifies as man, woman, both, or neither, for us (as educators, peers, etc.) to accept and support their identity, we need to know their pronouns. Therefore, now I ask students to answer a mild Would You Rather question and share their pronouns with the class.
–Tara McCoy, Psychology Faculty
The first time I introduced myself to students with my preferred pronouns and asked for theirs, I felt awkward since it was new. In my on ground classes, I included that ask as part of our first day icebreaker: tell us your name, preferred pronouns, and something interesting about yourself. I did the same myself to start us off, and the students followed without any awkwardness at all! In my online classes, I usually ask students to either make an introductory video or PowerPoint with photo, name, hometown, etc. When I added pronouns to the list of what to include, it just became one more quick line or mention in their introductions. Overall, using pronouns is such an easy way to indicate I am supportive of all students, and I wish I started incorporating them sooner.
–Lindsy Mason, English Faculty
How do I change or add my email signature on Outlook?
Here is an under 2 minute video tutorial to walk through the easy process of how to change or add my email signature in Outlook (video).
- Open your Outlook email page.
- Select the “gear” icon for Settings on the upper right corner of the screen.
- In the vertical window that opens, Click “View All Outlook Settings” near the righthand bottom of the screen.
- In the box that opens, click “Mail” and then “Compose and Reply.” From there, you should be able to edit your email signature. Be sure to save before exiting out of the screen. If you choose, check the boxes below the compose signature box to include your signature in all emails you send.
- Additional Resources. Mypronouns.org
- Good Practices: Names and Pronouns. University of Maryland
- Talking About Pronouns in the Workplace. Human Rights Campaign Foundation
- Trans Students Often Struggle With Mental Health. Inside Higher Ed
- Pronoun Guide. GLSEN.org
- Pronouns Matter. University of California San Francisco
- Resources. International Pronouns Day
- Suicide Thoughts and Attempts Among Transgender Adults. UCLA School of Law Williams Institute
- Gender Pronouns. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee