Sharing pronouns and learning names

As our spring semester begins at CSU, one of our student leaders in the college asked me to send out a note to our faculty, encouraging them to share their pronouns with students and working to create an inclusive classroom environment right from the get-go.

When you share your pronouns with your class in your introduction and syllabus, you work to normalize this practice and help us all avoid making assumptions and stereotyping around gender identity. More importantly, this practice is inclusive of trans and gender-nonconforming students and colleagues and invites their full participation in the learning environment.

I recommend not asking students/colleagues to share their pronouns, because this can out people who are trans and gender-nonconforming. Just sharing your own pronouns (if you’re comfortable) can serve as an invitation to your class to share theirs if and when they’re comfortable. So, when I’m introducing myself in class or in a meeting, I’ll say, “Hi, I’m Naomi; I use the pronouns she, her, and ella.” I sometimes forget to include my pronouns when I introduce myself, so when I remember, I’ll just make a note of it next time I’m speaking: “Sorry, I meant to share that my pronouns are she, her, and ella when I introduced myself.”

When someone trusts you enough to share their pronouns with you, be sure to honor this by using their pronouns correctly. If you accidentally misgender someone by using the wrong pronouns, acknowledge the mistake, correct yourself, and move on. If you are corrected, thank the person for correcting you, and use the correct pronouns moving forward.

Beyond this, it’s important to learn your students’ or classmates’ preferred names and how to pronounce them correctly. Recognize that some people use names that may differ from their legal or given names for a variety of reasons. Taking the time to ask your student/colleague their preferred name and pronunciation and having them help you to learn to say it correctly shows respect and care.

I’ve noticed in my own teaching that I will sometimes have students introduce themselves with their names, but then quickly follow up with a nickname, for example, “you can just call me Mike.” In these instances, I recognize that these suggested nicknames may be the result of many bad experiences with the individual trying to use their own name. Sometimes past professors have butchered the name pronunciation and/or not been interested in getting it right, or they’ve asked for a nickname upfront, not wanting to take the time to learn the student’s name. Thus, I tell the student that we are happy to learn how to say their name correctly if they’d rather us use their full name.

Similarly, when communicating with folks via email or other written form, take the time to spell names correctly and use correct punctuation, including any accents or tildes that someone’s name includes.

These seemingly small practices of learning/using pronouns and people’s names are significant in building inclusive learning environments. They send the message to each person that they are welcome and respected as who they are.

For more information, please review the Colorado State University Pronoun Statement from the Office of Inclusive Excellence.