The use of correct and preferred pronouns in classrooms is important to a student’s academic growth and classroom participation, but statistics show at Iowa State students find respect for their gender identity lacking.
“Because [pronouns] are just as important as your name, having your pronouns not used correctly would be like having your name not pronounced correctly … no, it's not even pronouncing, it's having someone completely not use your correct name,” said nicci port, project director for diversity and inclusion and LGBTQ+ initiatives.
Two percent of the population of students, faculty and staff identify on the transgender spectrum and almost ten percent of the population identify within the LGBTQIA+ community, according to the campus climate survey published in April 2018.
Sixty-nine percent of the transgender spectrum identifying individuals had indicated in the survey that they experienced “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct” based on their gender identity.
This shows that although there may be a small amount of LGBTQIA+ community members on campus, this population is feeling unwelcome due to their gender identity.
“The risk for trans students and those that are transitioning are really profound and quite frankly deadly,” said Marcia Purdy, lecturer in the school of education. “If you are someone who doesn’t understand … that’s not okay.”
Some gender-neutral pronouns that can be used instead of the common gendered pronouns of “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” include “they/them/theirs” and “zie/zir/zirs” according to the University of Southern California LGBT Resource Center website.
Kathryn Kananen, senior in bioinformatics and computational biology and president of the asexual aromantic alliance, said when a person gives another person their pronouns it is a sign of trust and that respecting that trust is important.
Brad Freihoefer, director for the center for LGBTQIA+ student success, said that using a person’s preferred pronouns and preferred name is a basic sign of respect.
When a professor or lecturer refers to a student by the wrong pronouns on multiple occasions, side effects may occur.
“[Not using a person’s preferred pronouns] creates a classroom where that person isn’t focused on learning,” said Amy Popillion, senior lecturer in human development and family studies.
Freihoefer said that not using a person’s preferred pronouns and their preferred name within a classroom can create an unwelcoming environment and a space where “respect is not a foundation.”
A different side effect that could occur is students feeling they cannot participate in class.
“If you want someone to be actively participating in a class and want them to ask questions, they need to be comfortable,” Kananen said. “If someone has something personal that they feel isn’t being respected they’re not going to be comfortable.”
There are many ways Iowa State can improve on inclusivity within classrooms. Below are some of these ways according to sources.
Purdy said that creating an inclusive classroom is a “good start” to creating an inclusive college campus.
Freihoefer said that not assuming a student’s name and gender, updating the syllabus and avoiding the use of gendered language is important to creating an inclusive classroom.
Popillion recommended that professors default to using gender neutral pronouns such as “they/them” instead of trying to learn all of their students' pronouns.
A Williams Institute document titled “Transgender Students in Higher Education” provided recommendations on many ways institutions of higher education can improve transgender inclusion.
One of the areas of recommendation was specifically on training and education aimed at faculty and staff.
“Faculty and staff should be exposed to mandatory training which includes trans terminology, pronouns, tools to interrupt the gender binary, best practices, acting as an ally to trans gender non-conforming students and resources to create a more inclusive campus,” according to the Williams Institute document.
Another area of recommendation surrounds the curriculum used in higher education.
“College curricula should address gender identity, and specifically trans identities and experiences,” according to the Williams Institute document. “Colleges and universities should encourage faculty to develop appropriate trans-inclusive curricular content.”
Other areas of recommendation that the Williams Institute talked about included policies, training aimed at students, restrooms, housing, healthcare and the ability for transgender students to list their preferred name and gender identity on legal documents.
“Asking and making sure we get a student’s pronouns right is a great way to begin creating a really inclusive and welcoming classroom experience,” Freihoefer said.