Pronoun Guide


Overview

Practicing gender inclusivity is easy, important, and in line with who we strive to be as members of the University of Kansas community. We want everyone to feel welcome and supported. We want our working environments to be productive and collegial. We want our classrooms to be engaging and challenging. We want these attributes to apply to every single person across all of KU. Many of these changes are small, but they have a big impact.

This guide was created by Dr. Katie Batza and supported through a partnership between the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity and the Policy Office (formerly the Office of Integrity & Compliance). This effort is part of a larger educational efforts to create more gender inclusivity and awareness at the University of Kansas.

Included here are some best practices and helpful tips to make your campus interactions and classrooms more welcoming and eliminate unintended exclusionary practices that harm students. Beyond this guide, there are a number of resources that can help you be more gender inclusive in your everyday interactions and in working with students.

Print Documents

  • The Pronoun Guide is available in print. PDFs can be requested by emailing diversity@ku.edu.


Learning Pronouns

Pronouns Defined

Pronouns refer to and substitute nouns, meaning people, places, and things. Some, though not all, pronouns also communicate the gender of a person.

Make it a Habit

When introducing yourself, simply make it a habit to state your pro-nouns and ask others to share their pronouns with you. Here are some helpful prompts:

  • What pronouns do you use?
  • How would you like me to refer to you?
  • What name and pronouns do you go by? 

Commonly Used Pronouns

Examples of Commonly Used Pronouns
SubjectObjectPossessive
SheHerHers
HeHimHis
TheyThemTheirs
ZeZirZirs
ZeHirHirs
Individually definedIndividually definedIndividually defined

Correcting Mistakes

Mistakes happen! Fix them.

Whether you accidentally refer to a student using the wrong pronoun or another colleague or student does so, it is very important to correct yourself and others, regardless of whether the person wrongly gendered is present. Pretending it didn’t happen only further disrespects the misgendered person. Simply say, “I’m so sorry, I meant to say…” or “I think that person actually uses the pronouns …” 

Feeling nervous about mistakes or correcting others? Sometimes it is helpful to think of it from a different perspective. If someone was mispronouncing your name, wouldn’t you prefer they said a quick apology or let someone else know the correct pronunciation? Of course! It is similar for transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people but with an added layer that some people chose to misgender them intentionally as a small act of aggression (a microaggression). To ensure everyone feels welcome on our campus and classrooms, correct and apologize for mistakes, and help those around you to use correct names and pronouns.

Singular They is OK!

Many faculty members struggle with using and accepting ‘they’ as a singular pronoun, particularly in student writing and assignments. This is in part due to grammatical rules in place when faculty were trained, and also due to habits that have been reinforced by society. However, the rules around the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun have changed, and not just in conversational language or colloquially.

In 2015, the American Psychological Association articulated its acceptance of the use of they as a singular pronoun in order to be inclusive of gender diversity. By 2017, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook adopted the use of they as a singular pronoun. Meanwhile, The American Heritage Dictionary altered its definition of they to include singular pronoun use. Major publications including The Washington Post and The New York Times have also embraced the use of they in this way. The Oxford English Dictionary has gone so far as to trace the use of singular they all the way back to the 1370s.  
In short, singular they is OK!

Still reluctant or concerned that allowing for singular they might somehow mask a different grammatical misunderstanding? Offer students the ability to use singular they. This practice allows for more inclusive language and reinforces students’ grammatical understanding.  

Projecting Gender Inclusion

Email Signatures and Online Profiles

Add your pronouns to your e-mail signature and online KU profile page! Why? Well, for one it can help others use the proper pronouns when they address you. Secondly, it communicates to transgender and gender nonconforming people that you are informed and invested in gender inclusion.

If someone else has gone to the trouble of adding their pronouns to their e-mail signature or online profile, be sure to use the correct  pronouns in your correspondence to them.

Name Tags

Our staff and administrators who wear permanent nametags can get pronouns included on them. When creating temporary nametags for a campus event or class, include a place for pronouns. This is also easy to apply to the classroom by asking students to include their pronouns on name tags or table tents for the first few weeks of class.

Personal Introductions

On such a big campus we are constantly introducing ourselves. Add your pronouns to your introductions to communicate useful  information about yourself and to make everyone feel welcome.

Avoid Gender Bias

Write Inclusively

Many of us learned to write in gendered ways, where “he” stood in for any person and where “he/she,” “s/he,” or “he or she” appeared as a welcome, if somewhat clunky, move in a more inclusive direction. As we write about people in the abstract, there are better ways to avoid gender bias in our writing and in the writing we ask of students. There are a handful of great writing strategies that can help avoid  gender bias.

  • Use plural
  • Use singular they
  • Don’t use any pronouns
  • Use the imperative (give instructions)
  • Use “one”

Assign Inclusively

Extensive research has shown that students from minoritized backgrounds feel more valued, welcome, and engaged in classes where assigned readings and assignments reflect and acknowledge their identities and experiences. When building programs, events, or syllabi consider who is included and who is left out. Are there scholars of different backgrounds whose research could be assigned, speakers who could be invited, or participants who could be included? Doing so not only makes your work more engaging, but also makes it more welcoming to everyone!

When writing handouts, tests, syllabi, or writing prompts, think inclusively and be aware of any assumptions you might be making about your colleagues, students, or members of the public. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Check use of terminology for gendered pronouns.
  • Develop and share ground rules and expectations around classroom discussions, participation, and respecting each other.
  • Include a statement about names and pronouns.
  • Take a Safe Zone training through the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.
  • Explore the resources about creating inclusive classrooms available through the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Gender Inclusive Teaching 

Making transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary people feel welcome in class is easy. Here are some tips for the first day of class and the entire semester:

  • Do not use a roster. Just ask students to introduce themselves and their pronouns.
  • Adopt inclusive language. For example, swap out “ladies and gentlemen” for “folks”, “everyone,” or “you all.”
  • Include your pronouns in your e-mail signature and on the syllabus
  • Encourage students to come to your office hours to chat about how to  make them feel more welcome in class.
  • Include gender non-conforming examples and texts in your class.
  • Apologize when you make a mistake and correct yourself.
  • Gently correct other students when they make pronoun mistakes.
  • Do not ask personal questions of transgender, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming people that you wouldn’t ask others, particularly about their bodies, medical care, sexual identity, family relationships, or name given at birth. These are all irrelevant to the classroom and are private.
  • Set a tone of respect and clearly lay out expectations for the rest of the class and semester.

Inclusivity and Canvas

The University of Kansas has worked with Canvas to ensure that transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary students are not outed when they participate in online discussion boards, etc. Students have the ability to edit their user settings, like pronouns, in Canvas. If students need support in navigating that process, please direct them to the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity or email the Center. This is important information worthy of sharing on the first day of class and in the syllabus.


Citations

Dr. Katie Batza, Associate Professor in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at KU, created this pamphlet and drew from texts by Dean Spade, Seattle University School of Law, The LGBT Campus Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Augsburg College, and the English Language Center at Vanderbilt University as well as these publications:  

Brielle Harbin, “Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom,” Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University, 2016.  

The Vanderbilt English Language Center, “Pronoun Guide,” Vanderbilt University 2018.  
“Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Transgender Students,” Augsburg College. 

Oxford English Dictionary, “A Brief History of Singular They,” https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/, published September 4, 2018.  

Merrill Perlman, “Stylebooks Finally Embrace the Single 
‘They’,” Columbia Journalism Review, www.cjr.org/language_corner/stylebooks-single-they-ap-chicago-gender-ne…, published March 27, 2017.  

Chelsea Lee, “The Use of Singular “They” in APA Style,” https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/11/the-use-of-singular-they-in-…, published November 16, 2015.