Gender Inclusivity Practices
Supportive attitudes and practices regarding personal pronouns and gender inclusivity in teaching can help enhance a thriving academic community for all. In this guide, the Gender Data Enablement Project has incorporated information from student and faculty experience surveys, along with helpful practices, to support gender inclusivity in Stanford classes.
“Everyone wants to be seen for who they are.” —Stanford student
- Legal sex or sex assigned at birth: A label assigned to babies based on their external anatomy and societal expectations of bodies.
- Gender identity: A person’s innate sense of their own gender. This may or may not correspond with their sex assigned at birth. This website provides more details about the difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity.
- Gender presentation or expression: How a person chooses to outwardly express their gender, tied to the context of societal expectations of gender.
- Pronouns: Words that refer to nouns. Pronouns are used to refer to someone when they’re not around or when not using someone’s name. While not the same thing as gender or sexual orientation, pronouns can help people feel seen and respected. “Where did Rosa go? They left their sweater here.” This website provides more details about pronouns and how they can be affirming.
- Misgendering: This happens when someone assumes the wrong gender of someone else. This can show up in using the wrong pronouns, the wrong salutations (“Good morning sir”), or gendered terms (“those ladies over there”). Misgendering can hurt people, make them feel like they’re not being seen, and can impact how (and if) they show up in a space. For more important terms, visit Folx Health’s glossary of terms.
“I’m constantly trying to evaluate ‘will I be a burden?’ Your existence is perceived to be a burden [or] a bit of a drag.” —Stanford student
The Gender Data Enablement Project and other data have shown that many students have been impacted and hurt by language and gendered environments at Stanford. Students spend a lot of mental energy and time trying to figure out if they should share their pronouns, correct others, advocate for themselves, and point out gendered language. Students face these difficult choices while wondering if this will impact their relationship with their instructor, their grade, or how their peers perceive them. Students sometimes avoid participating in class, going to office hours, or even attending class because of these concerns.
With the goal of enhancing a thriving academic community, gender inclusivity and pronoun practice are necessary to lessen these student concerns and negative experiences.
Faculty, lecturers, academic teaching staff, and teaching assistants often use pronouns when referring to someone in class, writing recommendation letters, and so on. If you truly don’t use personal pronouns in class and use student names instead, that works!
Learning students’ names and pronouns can be difficult, and may not be possible, especially in larger classes. At the same time, using the wrong pronouns could potentially misgender a student, which can be harmful, potentially impacting mental health and academic performance. The guidance below provides you with helpful options no matter how large or small your class may be. Students understand that mistakes happen, and the guidance below addresses such instances as well.
“I don’t expect the person at a coffee shop to know my pronouns, but with someone I have a relationship with—a friend, a professor—I feel not seen in that moment, respected or understood.” —Stanford student
Students are able to update their pronouns in Axess, and their updated pronoun information will be reflected in course rosters in both Axess and Canvas. Student Services provides additional guidance about updating pronouns on their website.
In some cases, students may not yet have updated their information in Axess. It may be helpful to remind students that doing so will help you as an instructor. When you view or download a new roster to account for enrollment changes, it can be a good time to see if students have made new updates or changes to their names and pronouns as well.
“You can’t look at a group of people and assume pronouns.” —Stanford student
The personal information updates webpage includes the pronoun options that will appear on student rosters. As you can notice, she/her and he/him are still options that people use.
Pronouns that are used instead of she/her or he/him may go beyond the traditional binaries of gender. For example, someone indicating they/them pronouns does not use either of the binary sets of pronouns, she/her or he/him. When using the singular they, the same grammar rules apply as when using this non-gendered pronoun in any situation. Many people automatically use this construction when someone’s gender is unknown, e.g., “Someone forgot their water bottle–I wonder if they have already left or if they are still here.” The use of the singular they/them is now widely accepted and considered grammatically correct. This grammar guide explains more about the history and current use of the singular they.
Students may also select use my name or ask me about my pronouns, and may do so for a variety of personal and potentially private reasons. It is best not to speculate or inquire about these reasons. You may also find that some students use several different pronouns and that an order of pronouns is indicated; that case is discussed next.
What does the order of pronouns mean?
When people indicate that they use multiple pronouns, you can use all of the selected pronouns to affirm them. You can use both pronouns if someone denotes that they use they or she pronouns. Sometimes the order of pronouns does matter. If someone denotes that they use they or she pronouns, this might imply a preference for they over she. In that case, using they would best affirm this student, but she is also acceptable.
Student: “Hi I’m Jess and I use they or she pronouns. I’m from Oakland, I love gardening, posting to social media, and doing community activism.”
Instructor: “Thanks, Jess, for modeling introductions for us. They offered their pronouns, which others are welcome to include as well, where they’re from, and her hobbies. Who’s next?”
What about people who choose no pronouns?
Some people choose not to use pronouns at all. In that case, you can refer to people by their names. For example, if Jess from the example above had indicated no pronoun use, the instructor could have said instead, “Thanks, Jess, for modeling introductions for us! Jess shared a preference for not using pronouns. Jess told us where Jess is from, and Jess’s hobbies.”
Are pronouns related to gender identity or sexual orientation?
Pronouns do not indicate one’s gender identity or sexual orientation. These aspects of identity may be distinct from one another.
“My pronouns are about how I want to be addressed, and not a statement about my sexuality or gender identity.” —Stanford student
It is not necessarily reasonable for students to expect faculty, lecturers, academic teaching staff, and TAs to memorize everyone's name and pronouns. But it is important to create an atmosphere that supports the use of students' names and pronouns.
Remembering names and pronouns can be difficult for anyone, especially in large lecture courses. Using students’ names instead of pronouns or using they/them for everyone is a good practice. Practice using names and they/them for everyone equally, not just for the students you don't know or remember.
How can I help everyone remember pronouns?
Consider these practices to help you and your students remember pronouns and foster a gender-inclusive environment.
- Invite students to share names and pronouns when they speak in class. This helps students in the class learn one another’s names and pronouns. Students should always have the option to decline sharing pronouns, so just make it optional.
- Explain to your students why you think pronouns are important and why you are making an effort to make your course more inclusive.
- Use name tents (large index cards on which students write their names and pronouns, if applicable).
- Update your roster periodically as student names and pronouns can change during the quarter.
“We don't expect faculty to memorize pronouns in the classroom.” —Stanford student
Everyone makes mistakes. And as the student voices above reassure us, students are not expecting perfect memorization. What’s most important is how to move on from the mistake. First, make sure to say the correct pronoun immediately. Then, apologize quickly, succinctly, and sincerely. Finally, move on with the content. This could sound like, “As she said... oops! I’m sorry. As they said…” It’s important not to over-apologize; this can sometimes make the student who was misgendered feel overwhelmed, on the spot, or now responsible for reassuring the person who made the mistake.
How do I address someone else’s mistake?
If a student misgenders someone in class, modeling the correct pronoun can help normalize correcting people, as well as affirm the person who was misgendered. This could sound like “Professor, he had a good point.” “She had a good point. And yes, that explanation was spot on. Let’s return to our assignment…” It is usually sufficient to model the correct pronoun and avoid overreacting to minor mistakes as doing so can put the misgendered student and the student who made the mistake in an uncomfortable position.
“Correcting yourself is fine. Don’t over-apologize. Better to just not repeat the behavior.” —Stanford student
Explore these additional resources for more information.
The importance of gender inclusivity and pronouns
- IDEAL website
- Everybody has pronouns!
- Using Correct Pronouns Could Save a Life
- Stanford Against Hate: Fighting Homophobia & Transphobia
- Why Do People Share Their Pronouns?
- Pronouns - in a word…
Affirming people who use multiple pronouns
- Addressing those who use multiple pronouns
- How to Respect and Affirm Folks Who Use Multiple Sets of Pronouns
Gender-neutral and inclusive language
- How To Use Gender-Neutral Language, And Why It's Important To Try
- Pronouns - A How-To
- How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive - Advice Guide
- Creating an Inclusive Classroom and/or Learning Space - Princeton
- Gendered Pronouns & Singular “They” - Purdue