At Issue: Lack of pronoun procedures in classrooms
Our take: Professors should be required to ask for preferred pronouns
Emerson prides itself on creating an accepting atmosphere for individuals. On campus, we have gender-neutral bathrooms and even staff in place to assist students with updating their email address, academic class listing, and ID cards with their preferred names.
However, professors at Emerson are not mandated to ask students for their preferred pronouns. While some professors choose to ask students for their preferred pronouns at the beginning of each semester, typically on the first day of class, some do not. Professors who dismiss the opportunity for students to state their pronouns not only create an environment of hesitancy and apprehension on the student’s behalf but oppose the college’s claim to be a progressive institution.
In this week’s Beacon article about pronoun procedure, college officials cite the section of the faculty handbook regarding “academic freedom” when justifying the lack of a pronoun mandate. The handbook says that faculty members are “entitled to full freedom in scholarship, research, and/or creative professional work.” This allows professors to control the atmosphere within their classroom, which arguably includes the decision of whether to skip over the introduction of pronouns.
However, the absence of structure can result in miscommunication and ignorance. “Academic freedom” and “common sense” shouldn’t be excuses for not developing an official procedure that pushes professors to learn and address students’ preferred pronouns. Students who don’t adhere to traditional gender pronouns have to publicly declare their preference on their own. The anxiety of being forced to speak up for your own identity poses an unnecessary stress.
In order to build a safer space on campus, foundational elements of procedure should be put in place. Even though some professors may address students with good intentions, an official guideline would create a safer environment for students who feel they are not being treated fairly. If it’s not perfect, it can be revised. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be a learning experience for those involved with inclusion at the college’s administrative level.
Students have questioned the discrepancy between the college’s support for the queer community and their actual policies in the past. In September 2017, the Beacon published an op-ed about transgender students’ dead names being used on class rosters and college documents even after they officially switched their preferred name with the Office of the Registrar.
The college offers faculty development workshops to encourage professors to foster an inclusive classroom environment. But it shouldn’t be a recommendation to treat everyone equally––it should be a mandate. Every professor should respect that students have a right to choose what name and pronoun they are referred to as. It is not the professor’s job to make that assumption; it is the student’s choice.
For the 2017-18 academic year, the Social Justice Center received 68 bias incident reports. Fifty percent of the bias incidents reported took place in classrooms. Twenty-nine percent involved gender identity and gender expression, while 15 percent involved sexual orientation. If you or someone you know ever feels left out of a classroom because you do not identify with the pronouns others have assigned to you, file an anonymous bias report on the Social Justice Center’s website. Let others know that this is an issue that can no longer be tolerated and that the way you identify should no longer be ignored for others’ convenience.