Inclusive classrooms: The pronoun Check

Over the last several years, public pronoun checks have become more common in educational settings, even beyond the gender and sexuality studies classroom. As someone who has a fraught relationship with pronouns, these checks can an uncomfortable experience — like a recurring gender reveal party that I didn’t realize I was attending. I quickly enter a place of indecision. Do I just settle on pronouns that feel like the best fit at the moment? Do I say I am okay with any pronouns? Will this make me appear to others as disrespecting others’ important identification with specific pronouns?

Despite my own discomfort with the process, I still want to make sure that I use pronouns for my students that respect their own experiences and identification with gender (or not). Indeed, many individuals do have pronouns that they would like to be used, and appreciate opportunities to let others know what these pronouns are. So based on my own experiences, as well as feedback I have heard from other queer, trans, and/or gender-on-conforming friends and acquaintances, I take a different approach to the pronoun check. Instead of doing a public check, I ask about pronouns in a survey I give all students on the first day of class. In addition to asking about things like what a student is looking forward to about the course, what makes them nervous, and what they do outside of school, I ask students if there are particular pronouns I should use for them this academic term. By doing this, I am not putting my students in a position where they feel like they need to a) lie to myself or their peers, b) pick a pronoun or set of pronouns that do not feel like a good fit simply so they have something to say, or c) “out” themselves at a time that was not chosen by them. This is especially important for students who might identify with a particular gender, but for whatever reason, present as a different gender.

As I learn and grow as an educator and listen to the needs of my students, my approach might change over time. However, this is one approach that is working well for me at this time — one that I believe can help make classrooms more inclusive of people of all genders.

Amanda Petersen