SIP 13.14 Make All Students Feel Welcome and Supported by Using Proper Pronouns

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Early Bird PrideCreating a welcoming and empowering learning environment is critical to supporting the success and well-being of transgender, nonbinary and other gender-diverse students. While some students may disclose these identities to you, others may not feel safe disclosing their gender identity. It’s best to assume that there are transgender and nonbinary students in all of our classes. Through modeling inclusive language, using diverse in-class examples and facilitating dialogue, you can increase safety for students with these identities while supporting the development of cultural responsiveness in all students, regardless of their program or professional goals.

Take a SIP of this: Support for Trans and Nonbinary Students

Pronouns are important. Pronouns and gender identity are integral to how we perceive ourselves. Being validated and affirmed in our identities can support us in feeling seen, valued and safe. Conversely, regular misgendering (being called by a gendered word or pronoun that one does not identify with) can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, lack of trust and openness, and other emotional responses that affect how learners engage in the classroom.

  • Before the first day of classes, familiarize yourself with different pronouns and get comfortable using them in conversation and writing.
  • Practice using gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their(s), as many nonbinary and gender-diverse students will use these pronouns.
  • Modeling the sharing of pronouns can be one important way to signal inclusivity to transgender and nonbinary students.
  • Regardless of the method of instruction, you can model normalizing the opportunity to share pronouns (and avoiding making assumptions about others’ pronouns).
    • In face-to-face classes, you can share your own pronouns with the class as you introduce yourself and share why you share your pronouns.
    • In online courses, you can set your pronouns to be visible in Canvas and/or provide some written context in your syllabus (e.g., include information about why you share your pronouns).
    • Check out these helpful resources on pronoun use to enhance your practice.
  • In addition to your modeling of pronouns, you should also provide an opportunity for students to share their pronouns with you and with one another. Prepare to ask students to include their pronouns in their introductions, whether vocally in a synchronous online platform or in an in-class introduction. Consider the following questions: How will you convey the importance of asking pronouns as a sign of respect? How will you intervene if students begin to laugh or make derogatory comments toward their gender-diverse peers? The ways that professors model this conversation and hold the classroom standards of respect will set the tone of creating an inclusive classroom for the semester.

More generally, language is important. Beyond pronouns, there are many opportunities to use more inclusive language in your classrooms.

  • Avoid referring to students as “Mr.,” “Miss,” “ladies,” “gentlemen,” “sir,” “guys” or other gendered language. Good replacements are “folks,” “everyone,” “students,” “class” and “you all.” Some other alternatives are “sibling” instead of “brother” or “sister,” “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife” and “parent” instead of “mother” or “father.”
  • Finally, work on specifying when you are speaking about cisgender people (those whose identity and gender correspond to their birth sex) as well as specifying when you speak about transgender people. This challenges the assumption that all people are cisgender unless otherwise stated.

We All Make Mistakes

  • If you make a mistake with a name, pronoun or other gendered term, apologize to the individual, correct your mistake and move on. For example, “Sierra said that she – I mean they, sorry – would like to present first today.”
  • Making a big deal about messing up makes everyone more uncomfortable. Also be aware that language changes quickly and it can be hard to keep up and use terminology you may be less familiar with.
  • If a student asks you to change how you refer to their identity, use the language that the student requests. If you receive feedback that a word or phrase is incorrect or offensive, take in this feedback and make the appropriate changes.

Students will make mistakes as well. Your willingness to provide corrections to students in regard to names/pronouns of other students or problematic language usage (e.g., “transsexual,” “homosexual lifestyle”) will show transgender and nonbinary students that you care. It can help if you, in the role of instructor, can assist with this process through reminding students to use the correct names and pronouns for their classmates and to bring awareness to where students may be making assumptions.

Consider the upcoming course materials – readings, assignments and videos presented in the class. In what ways are they inclusive of transgender and nonbinary people (and LGBTQIA+ people more generally), either in content or in authorship? Are there any modifications in writing prompts or assignments that could be made to include people of diverse sexual and gender identities (e.g., gender-neutral language)? Do the readings in the class include authors in the LGBTQIA+ community? Being intentional from the beginning will show students that you take their identities seriously, and you should allow for dialogue when a concern about inclusivity arises.

An additional way to support transgender and nonbinary students is to share information about MSU Denver’s official name-change process in systems such as Canvas and email. Metropolitan State University of Denver has a policy that allows students to change the first name displayed in these systems to use the name they go by rather than their legal name. Students need to fill out a Change of Information form with their preferred first name and submit this to the Registrar’s Office for this change to be made.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive online classroom for transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse students won’t happen automatically. But with a little bit of time and intentionality, you can set up and carry out your course in a way that will support the learning and development of transgender and nonbinary students. Thanks for all you do to honor and affirm the gender diversity of your students – they will be grateful for your efforts.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of support for trans and nonbinary students:

This GLAAD resource provides some excellent general information about language pertinent to transgender, nonbinary and gender diversity (as well as other LGBTQIA+ identities).

This is good resource for language about why we share pronouns.

To practice pronoun use, try out this online activity. We also recommend trying it out with colleagues, family and friends to help you become more comfortable using these pronouns.

Take time to consider how you will approach this important conversation and check out this related Best Practices for LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Classrooms guide for some additional ideas or this blog post on LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Online Practices.

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