Pronoun Usage in Academic Spaces: Helpful or Harmful?

Axel Battista

Staff Writer

What do you say when you introduce yourself? What information do you give someone you just met? Mostly likely you’ll just give them your name, right? But what about your pronouns? Why might these be so important to include when we introduce ourselves to someone we just met? 

We use the third person pronoun on a daily basis whether we realize it or not.

Pronouns are the parts of speech in the English language that refers to something or someone either directly or indirectly. You might not even notice how often you use pronouns, especially the third person plural, which recently became grammatically correct according to the Webster Dictionary. This isn’t to say that the third person singular pronouns (they/them/theirs) was not already grammatically correct, but more so provides the academic and social backing that some people needed to have their identity feel valid. 

We use the third person pronoun on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. Think about when you’re talking about the people who served you at the drive through. You could say something like, “I just got back from McDonalds, the people working today were so nice. They both complimented my sweatshirt!” Alternatively, think about when you go anywhere in the world, and you’re talking to one of your friends about someone you saw, but you don’t know what gender identity they align with. You would refer to them as “they,” in respect for their gender identity, because you don’t want to address them in any other way than what they’re comfortable with, even if they aren’t there in the room with you. The argument is often that there is no neutral pronoun and that there is no such thing as nonbinary or transgender, but even the Webster Dictionary agrees with the community. So, what do we do when we get into the academic space? How do we go about introducing ourselves even if we do identify with the gender we were assigned at birth?

UNCG has an incredibly diverse population of students, coming from so many different backgrounds. Gender neutral pronouns are important to understand for this specific reason, because you never know someone’s pronouns until you ask or are told. We, as students in an academic as well as social environment such as UNCG, should be aware of the different gender identities that exist. While no one is required to tell you their pronouns when you ask, it should become just as common as asking what someone’s name is. Asking “What are your pronouns?” should become just as normal as asking for someone’s name; this question is inclusive to the trans and nonbinary community and does no harm to those that identify as cisgender.

Gender neutral pronouns are important to understand for this specific reason, because you never know someone’s pronouns until you ask or are told. We, as students in an academic as well as social environment such as UNCG, should be aware of the different gender identities that exist.

This semester in particular, I’ve noticed more and more professors asking students for their pronouns or asking them to put them in their Zoom name. It’s very progressive, inclusive and understanding of professors to inquire about their students’ pronouns. Each individual student can demonstrate their pronouns, can write them down on introductory assignments, include them in their Zoom display name, etc. Students can use their correct pronouns without having to out themselves. As a transgender man myself, I find this wonderful, and I understand why it can be hard for my cis peers to understand why it’s so important to normalize asking for pronouns.

However, what if a professor does not ask students for their pronouns during those first few class meetings? What if they are not required as part of the introduction? It automatically others trans-identifying students who want to be addressed correctly and speak up about their pronouns. I’ve learnt that it’s a strange dichotomy. On one hand I don’t want to be immediately outed when I’m one of the only ones to introduce myself with my pronouns, but I also don’t want to be addressed with the incorrect pronouns. I find myself afraid to be othered  but willing to take the risk in order to be addressed correctly. I, like so many of my trans and nonbinary siblings, are forced to come out everytime we are asked for our pronouns because we “look trans,” or because we’re the only ones in the room that will say our pronouns. If we, as humans and as people, were to normalize the usage of pronouns in our daily lives, trans-identifying students would not have to feel singled out in their classes. 

Understandably, some professors and students are unsure how to handle and go about pronouns in the classroom. I am here to assure you that they are becoming more and more normalized and even if they aren’t as routine as asking for someone’s name, it is becoming easier and more recognizable to ask for pronouns. It becomes a problem when pronouns are not asked and then people are assuming someone’s gender and pronouns. The easiest thing to do is check with someone, ask them what their pronouns are and ask them if they are okay with you asking. Formulate that question as such: “Is it okay if I ask what your pronouns are?” Whenever you are unsure of how to acknowledge and speak about someone, use the third person plural they/them/theirs pronouns and when you become privy to their pronouns, you refer to them that way.



Categories: Editorials, Opinions

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