Pronouns Matter

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Illustration by Ry X

Given the gendered qualities of English pronouns, sensitivity is crucial when interacting with individuals who have yet to make their pronouns apparent. 

Assuming someone’s gender identity can lead to feelings of isolation and dysmorphia. Such exclusion can foster unhealthy and unproductive learning environments. 

Noah Fox is a second-year Porter College affiliate who identifies as a trans male. 

“It’s a fine line for students to have to tread — always worrying if you are cis-passing enough to not out yourself by stating pronouns versus being misgendered completely,” Fox said. “While it is tempting to say the simplest solution would be that if a student’s pronouns differ from their assigned sex in the school’s system, it could be indicated on the roll sheets, that poses a threat to trans students who pass as cis and wish to continue living as their gender without others knowing about their past.”

Classroom pronoun usage is at the forefront of many educators’ minds as well. UC Santa Cruz linguistics professor Ivy Sichel has firsthand classroom experience. 

“For my own classes, when it isn’t a large lecture hall, I ask people in the beginning of the term to write down their pronouns, on a sheet that I pass around,” Sichel said. “In other words, I see correct pronoun usage as basically similar to correct name usage. In a class size in which I can hope to eventually get students’ names, I also hope to get their pronouns correct.”

Pronoun introductions should be commonplace in spaces of education. They set the tone for respectful interactions between faculty and students, and are of high importance when creating spaces for equal education.

Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer views pronoun identity as a place for conversation rather than mandated roll-call policy. 

“I see it as an invitation,” Kletzer said. “We should always make invitations so people can decline them, as well as welcome them. By inviting people to share their pronouns we are trying to live the practice of not making the assumption of gender identity. This is best done by practicing it and by talking about it, rather than mandating it.” 

Instead of requiring students to provide their pronouns, it’s better approached as an opportunity for sensitive discussion. This allows for correct usage and fosters positive relations rather than negative emotions between faculty, students and community members alike. 

“I don’t think that knowing someone’s pronouns are the end all, be all of knowing them as a person,” Fox said, “but I can say from experience that no matter how confident I am that I pass as my gender, to hear someone call me ‘her’ or ‘miss’ is gut wrenching and takes away so much of the confidence I’ve built up for myself.”