Dear Faculty Relations - There seems to be a rapid change in the number of students using different pronouns, such as they, them, theirs, or xe, xem, xeirs. These pronouns sound out of place, and I wonder about their grammatical correctness. How should I address students in my classes who have made requests to use such pronouns? – What is Up With Pronouns? 

Dear What is Up With Pronouns: Pronouns are used to respect someone’s identity; as such, we should use the pronouns that a person has indicated are appropriate. Our language is simply adapting–as all languages do–to an evolving sense of personhood. Our understanding, practice and performance of gender have progressed to include a spectrum of genders rather than a binary construction of man or woman. Although transgender people, as an umbrella term, have existed far back into history, the increased visibility of these identities has allowed more people to recognize their identity within these categories. While it may seem like this is happening rapidly, the movement to have more gender-inclusive pronouns has been going on for the last couple of decades at least and is now spreading more widely. 

To be seen as someone who does not identify as solely a man or a woman, it is necessary to create and use pronouns to indicate that. Therefore, if students or colleagues notify you that they use a different set of pronouns than they have before, it is not only grammatically correct to use them but also respectful of their identity and personhood. Look on the other side; if someone were repeatedly using the incorrect name for you, it would quickly become apparent that you are not important to that person. Using incorrect pronouns is similar and very impactful to trans people.  

Only 32% of our gender-diverse students feel they have a sense of community on campus, so everything you can do to create an inclusive environment will help their sense of belonging on campus and their academic success. Respecting someone’s pronouns and, therefore their gender, is critical for students in the process of identity development. We hope that you will join the movement to honor everyone’s identity. Your allyship can make a big difference. 

Written by Morgan Seamont, Director, Pride Office, Center for Inclusion and Social Change, November 2022