Springfield College is committed to valuing and validating the gender identity and expression of members of the campus community. Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth or the sex designation on their legal documents. One way that Springfield College seeks to create gender-inclusive academic, living, and work environments is by encouraging all members of the campus community to indicate the pronouns they use for themselves, if desired, in classes, residence halls, workplaces, and other settings, and by encouraging members of the campus community to respect these pronouns.
What is a pronoun?
- A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun or a noun phrase to refer to individuals.
- Pronouns can be in the first person singular (I, me) or plural (we, us); second person singular or plural (you); and the third person singular (e.g., she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir) or plural (they/them).
- Gendered pronouns specifically reference someone’s gender: he/him/his or she/her/hers.
- Non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns are not gender specific and are most often used by people who identify outside of a gender binary. The most common set of nonbinary pronouns is they/them/their used in the singular (e.g., Jadzia identifies as genderqueer; they do not see themselves as either a woman or a man). Other nonbinary pronouns include ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he, and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her (e.g., Jadzia runs hir own business, but ze is more well-known as an author). The terms “it” or “he-she” are slurs used against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, and should not be used.
- Other approaches to pronouns may include going simply by one’s name, not having a preference, or wanting to avoid pronouns altogether.
- There are many languages in the world that do not use gendered pronouns.
(This is not an exhaustive list)
|She||Her||Hers||Herself||She is studying.
I studied with her.
The book is hers.
|He||Him||His||Himself||He is studying.
I studied with him.
The book is his.
|They||Them||Theirs||Themself||They are studying.
I studied with them.
The book is theirs.
|Name||Name||Name's||Name's self||Alex is studying.
I studied with Alex.
The book is Alex's.
("zere")/ Hir ("here")
|Zirs/Hirs||Zirself/Hirself||Ze is studying.
I studied with zir.
The book is zirs.
Why are pronouns important?
- It is important to ask for pronouns because you cannot assume how someone identifies their gender based on their appearance.
- As a society, we commonly assume the gender of others by their appearance and indicate these assumptions by using gendered language, such as she/he, ma’am/sir, Ms./Mr., and ladies/gentlemen.
- This practice results in many individuals, especially trans and gender-nonconforming individuals, being misgendered, which may lead them to feel disrespected, marginalized, and invisible.
- It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is disrespectful and hurtful.
How can I be inclusive in using and respecting gender pronouns?
- Respecting someone’s self-identification means using the gender pronouns with which they identify. Some people go by more than one set of pronouns.
- Normalize the process of indicating your gender pronouns in everyday use with strategies such as including them in your email signature, business cards, website profile, and nametags, or using them as you introduce yourself (i.e., "My name is Tou and my pronouns are he and him. What about you?”)
- If you do not know or have not asked someone’s pronouns, try to use “they/them” pronouns.
- Ask individuals to provide their personal pronoun(s). It can feel awkward at first, but it is not as awkward as getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption. Here are some ways you can do this:
- “What pronouns do you use?”
- “How would you like me to refer to you?”
- "Can you remind me what pronouns I should be using for you?"
- Please note that if a student, staff, or community member tells you that they do not want to disclose their pronouns or do not wish their pronouns to be public knowledge, you can refer to that person by their name only (i.e., Leo’s book is over there. Can you please hand it to Leo?).
What if I mistakenly use the wrong pronouns for someone?
- The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, such as “Sorry, I meant they.” Fix it, but do not call special attention to the error in the moment. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
- It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But please, don’t. It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is not their job. It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.
- If you hear someone else using the wrong pronoun, in most cases, you may gently correct the person who made the mistake without further embarrassing the individual who was misgendered. You can say something like, “Actually, Neera uses ‘they’ for themselves.”
Pronouns Dos and Donts
- Do recognize that most people have pronouns, not just trans people, and that asking pronouns is very important, both so someone is not misgendered and so that trans people are not the only ones who will feel the need to share their pronouns.
- Do remember that some people go by more than one set of pronouns.
- Do ask people the pronouns they use for themselves whenever you ask people their name, such as when you meet someone for the first time or when you do go-arounds at meetings. Keep in mind that people may change the pronouns they go by, so it is necessary to ask pronouns in go-arounds regularly.
- Do say “the pronouns someone uses” or “their personal pronouns,” rather than “their preferred pronouns,” because the pronouns someone uses are not a preference.
- Do remember that not everyone feels comfortable indicating their pronouns at all or in every setting and no one should feel forced to do so.
- Do consider using other ways to make language more gender-inclusive, such as by using “Hey, everyone” or "How are all y'all doing?" in a group setting instead of “Hey guys!” or “Hey ladies!" or "How are you guys doing?” Browse more gender-inclusive terms.
- Don’t refer to pronouns such as “they/them/their” or “ze/hir/hir” as “gender-neutral pronouns.” While some people identify as gender-neutral, others see themselves as gendered in a nonbinary way. Better language is “nonbinary pronouns.”
- Don’t describe the pronouns someone uses as “preferred pronouns.” It is not a preference. The pronouns that a person uses are their pronouns and the only ones that should be used for them.
- Don’t say “male pronouns” and “female pronouns.” Pronouns are not necessarily tied to someone’s gender identity: some trans people use “he/him/his” or “she/her/her,” but do not identify as male or female, respectively.
- If you conform to (most) gender expectations and are not a transgender person, don’t indicate that you “don’t care what pronouns are used for me.” Such statements reinforce the privilege of people who are gender conforming and not transgender because these people are not going to be misgendered and thus do not need to worry about the pronouns that people use for them. It also invalidates the experiences of gender nonconforming and transgender people, many of whom struggle with getting people to use their correct pronouns.
Resources on how to use, ask, and share pronouns
Sharing Your Pronouns [video]
Pronoun Tutorial [video]
- International Pronouns Day
|Gendered noun||Gender-inclusive noun|
|mankind||people, human beings, humanity|
|man-made||machine-made, synthetic, artificial|
|chairman||chair, chairperson, coordinator, head|
|mailman/postman||mail carrier, letter carrier, postal worker|
|salesman||salesperson, sales associate|
|steward, stewardess||flight attendant|
|congressman||legislator, congressional representative|
|partner, spouse, significant other|
Adapted from UMass Stonewall Center, Boston University, and lgbtcampus.org