Your first week of classes tends to go the same way each semester. Your professor will introduce themselves, ask students for their name and major, and discuss the syllabus for the class. Sometimes a professor may ask for a fun fact. But many students sit there and hope for the professor to ask a simple question: What are your pronouns?
When a professor starts the class by introducing themselves and asking their students to do the same, requesting students include their pronouns is a simple task. Most students are barely going to notice the added request, even less are likely to care. But in each class, there may be one or two students who feel the crushing expectation to make their gender identity known or to risk consistent, anxiety-inducing misgendering.
Asking people their pronouns has become increasingly common in the last few years. It’s common for tour guides at Rowan to ask potential students for their pronouns when touring Rowan University for the first time. So, in a world where everyone can put their pronouns in their social media bio, why aren’t they being asked for them in the classroom?
According to a survey done by Pew University, Americans in their teens and early twenties are those most likely to use pronouns that differ from their gender assigned at birth– an age range that also comprises the majority of the Rowan University demographic.
The same survey found that roughly 59.5% of people have heard information regarding the use of pronouns for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. However, the amount of transgender and gender-nonconforming people is more minuscule in comparison. In 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, almost 1% of the American population identifies publicly as transgender—or about 3 million people.
With so few transgender people, it’s easy for their existence to be overlooked in a college setting or disregarded by people, because they feel it’s a topic that doesn’t apply to them. It’s not that professors don’t care about their students’ pronouns, it’s likely that they just never thought to ask. But there is no time like the present. Why not start now?
Starting the first day of classes by asking students for their name, major and pronouns is a quick way for people to get to know one another. Now, professors know how to call on you in class, understand why you’re taking their class, and can refer to you comfortably and accurately. Additionally, even if no students in any given class use alternative pronouns, simply asking for them implies to the many people who identify as queer at Rowan University that the classroom is a welcoming space. When cisgender classmates say their own pronouns in class, it normalizes the discussion and encourages alternative-pronoun users to feel more comfortable in doing the same.
For professors, asking pronouns during the first day of class also eliminates the possibility for accidental misgendering, referring to students solely by their name in conversation because you don’t know their pronouns, and having to send a mid-semester email to a student asking for their pronouns because you never got them in the first place.
When a professor introduces themselves, it’s not difficult for them to tag their pronouns at the end. When they ask for students to do the same, it takes almost as much effort to ask students for their pronouns as it does to ask them for their major. If a student doesn’t want to say their pronouns, they don’t have to– and that’s the beauty of the situation.
Pronouns are not earth-shattering or terribly complex, they’re typically five letters at most. They’re one more item on the list of basic things you should know about a person. At the end of the day, why wouldn’t you ask?
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