Opinion: Using Gender-Inclusive Language in the Classroom
Prior to returning to campus, I was nervous about how my gender identity and pronouns would be respected in the classroom. Dr. Kevin Hunt, Associate Professor of Spanish, is one of the only professors I have had since coming back to Meredith this fall that has provided the opportunity for students to tell him their pronouns discreetly and indirectly. During our first class, he had us fill out notecards with information and brought up writing our pronouns if we felt comfortable. I felt bold and comfortable enough that I put my pronouns on the notecard, my pronouns being they/them.
The next class he asked me if I could stay after. When I did, he talked to me about how to not misgender myself in Spanish, especially considering the language is very binary. He didn’t just stop there, either: he also taught the class how to use they/them pronouns in Spanish without outing me or anyone else who might not identify as female in the class. He didn’t make it feel uncomfortable or like he had to go an extra mile in order to use my correct pronouns. It made my day how easily he accepted my pronouns and wanted to help me learn to use them in Spanish.
Honestly, I almost cried at how accepting he was even though I barely knew him because even people I’ve known my whole life have had a hard time understanding my gender identity, as well as how to correctly switch to they/them pronouns. It made me feel safe and like there was at least one professor here that was on my side and cared.
Vanderbilt University posted a guide online that discusses how and why professors should use language that is beyond the binary for students who are genderqueer, nonbinary, genderfluid, transgender or gender non-conforming. The guide outlines ways that teachers can create and maintain a gender-inclusive classroom environment. One of the most important ones is discussing topics related to gender non-conforming identities because most students don’t know or understand these. The more they know, the easier it might be for them to understand and respect their classmates’ gender identity and pronouns. The other important action to take is gender-affirming practices. These practices offer opportunities for students to provide their chosen names or pronouns without outing themselves. These opportunities could consist of professors using Google forms before the first class and adding a section for pronouns or chosen names and clarifying when to use them if the student isn’t out.
In comparison to the guide Vanderbilt provided, Meredith can do better about understanding that while our college has historically been an all-women’s college, not all of the students who go here identify within the gender binary or identify as a woman. Meredith could work to improve the knowledge students and professors have of gender by leading by example and teaching them how to be more inclusive. Meredith could also suggest that professors implement gender-affirming practices. In my experience, most professors do not go out of their way to provide an opportunity for students to discreetly let the instructor know their pronouns or chosen names. Those that have stopped asking for pronouns or providing students with an opportunity to put them down discreetly on a notecard or Google form shortly after the class started.
In addition, the majority of professors do not use gender-inclusive language when talking to individuals or the group as a whole. In fact, I’ve had professors complain about how hard it is to use the right pronouns and continue to misgender someone, which made me feel uncomfortable and like my entire identity was being dismissed. Meredith professors should consider using Google forms or providing notecards to everyone in the first class upon which students can choose to put their gender identity, pronouns and chosen names. Professors should also speak about gender identities, even if it’s just a brief announcement about respecting others’ pronouns and identities.
It’s important to use gender-inclusive language because it helps students feel like they’re safe at Meredith and that all students are allowed to learn and be themselves. It also helps students who might not have anyone who accepts them outside of Meredith to know they have a place they’re allowed and encouraged to be themselves. Meredith can’t truly be a “wonderland” until every student’s gender identity is valued and respected in the classroom.
By Jayce Perry, Contributing Writer