Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

A More Inclusive Campus: Pronouns and Preferred Names FAQ

Diversity & Inclusivity in the ClassroomConsistently using personal pronouns and preferred names is key for creating a more inclusive campus culture. To support faculty and staff in using personal pronouns and preferred names, the CTLT has prepared a Pronouns and Preferred Names Resource Page and the answers below to frequently asked questions (FAQ).





Pronouns and Preferred Names: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

To complement the CTLT's Pronouns and Preferred Names Resource Page for faculty and staff, below are answers to questions often posed by those learning about appropriate and effective use of personal pronouns. Links to additional resources are provided at the bottom of this page.

How can students update their pronouns and preferred name so that they are available in university systems? 

As of March 2019, students can update their preferred names in the Cal Poly Portal. Beginning in November 2021, all students will be also able to provide the university with personal pronouns through the campus data systems.  Once updated, pronouns will display on the classroom and other administrative rosters and in some essential student service systems across the university. Instructions for how students can identify their preferred name and set their personal pronouns are available on the Updating My Information webpage.

How can students and other Canvas users update their pronouns in Canvas? 

Instructions for how students can set their personal pronouns are available on What's New in Canvas. Questions about this capability in Canvas should be directed to canvassupport@calpoly.edu. Students are able to select pronoun sets from a drop down menu (He/him/his, She/her/hers, They/them/theirs, etc.). Once a user selects pronouns, they will be visible next to the user's name and visible to all other users. As a default, no pronouns will be displayed until the user selects pronouns from the dropdown menu. Instructors should let students know that if they use a pronoun set that is not listed, they can contact the instructor directly to share their personal pronouns. 

Should I ask students for their pronouns on a questionnaire or in some other manner?

Yes, it is a good idea to ask your students for their pronouns. If you use Canvas for your courses, you can ask students to indicate their pronouns in Canvas. If a student has indicated their pronouns for use in campus systems, they will be available in course info and course rosters. Please note that some students may be trying out a pronoun set and may not yet be ready to include that information in the Cal Poly Portal. 

We recommend that you use a questionnaire at the beginning of the term to generally learn more about your students. If you have not previously asked students for their pronouns, we encourage you to do so in your beginning of term survey. This can be as simple as distributing a survey that asks students: 1) What name would you like me to use in referring to you in class?, and 2) What pronouns would you like me to use in referring to you? If you are speaking directly with a student, faculty, or staff member, you can ask them directly for their pronouns by asking: “What are your pronouns?”, “My pronouns are she/her/hers. What are yours?”, “I want to make sure I use the correct pronouns in addressing you. Which pronouns would you like me to use?”, or “I’m not sure if I confirmed which pronouns you use. Can you remind me what your pronouns are?”

Some faculty ask students to publicly state their name and pronouns aloud in class—we recommend that you make stating pronouns in this way optional, as there may be students in your class that are not yet comfortable sharing their pronouns aloud. You can model by introducing yourself and stating your own pronouns and letting students know that you invite them to share theirs, if they choose. If you choose to do this, you should also be prepared to respond to students who may be disrespectful when sharing their pronouns or will indicate that they don’t care which pronouns are used to refer to them—for some this is a conscious choice, but for others it often comes from a place of privilege where they are able to be open with pronoun use in a way that is not possible for transgender and non-binary individuals whose gender identities are often questioned and disrespected.

Given that some students' preferred names will not show on my roster, is it acceptable to circulate an attendance sheet with the roster or to call roll?

We recommend against circulating an attendance sheet that is pre-filled with roster information or calling roll using the information generated in the roster. Since not all students preferred names will appear on your roster, circulating a roster risks sharing names that are no longer in use by students with the rest of the class—this can be particularly devastating and harmful for transgender and non-binary students. You should assume that many of the names on your roster may not be in use by your students. An alternative is to circulate a blank attendance sheet and to ask students to indicate their preferred name and (optionally) pronouns; then preferred names can be typed up for circulation and attendance in future classes.

Should I include a syllabus statement about pronouns? If so, what should it say?

Yes! A statement about pronouns can be included as part of a more extensive statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion or can be included as a separate statement. We also recommend reviewing the statement with your students at the beginning of the term. The following statement is adapted from Binghamton University’s Creating a Classroom that Affirms All Gender Identities.

At Cal Poly everyone has the right to be addressed by their preferred name and the personal pronouns that correspond to their gender identity. Students can update their pronouns in PolyProfile and in their Canvas user settings. If you have not yet updated your pronouns in Canvas, you can do so at the beginning of the term so that I can make sure to refer to you using the correct pronouns. If your pronoun set is not available in Canvas, please let me know in the survey that I will distribute to students. I will survey all students in this course so that you can indicate the name and pronouns you would like me to use when addressing you in this course. As part of our commitment to equity and inclusion in this course, it is important that all students in this class respect the preferred names and pronouns of their peers. Mistakes in addressing one another may happen. If you make a mistake or are corrected, please briefly apologize and correct yourself. I will not tolerate intentional disrespect or discrimination towards other students based on their pronouns, preferred name, gender identity, or any other social identity. I recognize that preferred names and personal pronouns may change during the course of the quarter, if at any point during the class you would like to be addressed differently, please let me know. To learn more about personal pronouns and why they are important please visit Cal Poly’s Pronouns Matter website and mypronouns.org.

What should I say if students ask why pronouns are important?

Including a syllabus statement, like the one above, and then reviewing it in class is a good way to provide an answer to this question in writing before it comes up. It will be helpful to spend some time familiarizing yourself with basic terminology around pronouns by visiting mypronouns.org and Cal Poly’s Pronouns Matter website so that when your students ask this question you are comfortable responding. Also, the Pronouns and Preferred Names Resource Page details why using correct pronouns is important at Cal Poly; this can also be a resource for you. Finally, be prepared to offer your students resources to help in their understanding—you may include links to both mypronouns.org and Cal Poly’s Pronouns Matter website on your syllabus or in other materials where you ask students for their personal pronouns.

I’m only familiar with pronoun sets like he/him/his and she/her/hers. What do I do if students indicate a personal pronoun set that I have never seen before?

When individuals provide personal pronoun sets you will often see them written as pronoun subject/object/possessive. The reason for this is that it provides guidance on how to use the pronoun set in different constructions. For example, you may see a pronoun set you’ve never seen before like ze/hir/hirs. This tells you that ze should be used when the individual is referred to as the subject of a sentence, hir as the object, and hirs as the possessive—for example ze was studying, I saw hir at the library, or I think that book is hirs. The key in this case is to practice using the person’s pronoun set. Try practicing out loud on your own so that using the pronoun set comes more easily in a group setting. It may be difficult at first and you may make mistakes, but those who use pronoun sets you are not familiar with are likely appreciate your efforts to correctly use pronouns. For more on pronoun sets see Cal Poly’s Pronouns Matter website.

I really want to support my students, but I am concerned about what might happen if I use the wrong pronouns by mistake. What should I do if I misgender a student? What if I hear someone else using incorrect pronouns for one of my students?

Correct yourself, apologize briefly, and move on. It is better to acknowledge your mistake briefly than to continue in the conversation as if you have not made a mistake or misgendered the student. It is important to model this kind of correction for your students so that they, too, will know how to respond if they make a mistake. Try, for example, saying “I’m sorry for misgendering you.”, “I apologize, I remember you use they/them/theirs pronouns.” Or when someone corrects you, you might say “I’m sorry and I appreciate the feedback.” Make your apology brief and sincere and then move on in the conversation.

If you hear someone else make a mistake, it is important to correct them. You can use a very brief correction like “[Name] uses they/them/their pronouns.” It is important to provide this correction to a mistake, whether the person being misgendered is present during the conversation or not. In a classroom, it is particularly important to make this type of correction so that students do not continue to misgender a peer.

How can I learn more?

The Gender Equity Center and LGBT+ Campus Life offer ongoing training and development opportunities for students, faculty, and staff.  For more information visit Gender and Sexuality

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