Pronouns in the Classroom: Balancing Sensitivity and Progression
As part of the new color-scheme changes happening in the Office of Communications, all tour guides will be receiving updated name tags. In an email sent out by Hannah Weighart ‘19 on Jan. 24th, Admissions announced students may now include their preferred pronouns as a third line. This decision is an important landmark in Skidmore’s fight to show inclusivity and acceptance of identity. While these name tags are a step in the right direction, the Editorial Board has concerns about how students fall victim to an inconsistency of inclusion that pushes towards equity in a counterproductive way.
In the email, Weighart made it clear that students will have the option to include their pronouns if they please, but are not expected to. However, representation as a form of acceptance translates into other areas on campus as well -- areas where non-binary students can be victim to immense amounts of pressure and being singled out.
Most of us during the first week back were at the mercy of introductions in which professors typically asked to hear: your name, major, and a fun fact. However, some professors will insist on every student sharing their pronouns. While this seems inclusive, it actually puts pressure on students who are non-binary to share what makes themselves “unconventional,” even if they wish not to. In this situation, a professor’s noble attempt at sensitivity in the classroom actually backfires. That yearned for inclusion has taken a detrimental hairpin turn.
Some students who are closeted may even be forced to misgender themselves from anxieties or fear. And for non-binary students who decide to share in front of a classroom of 24 peers, they become hyper-visible.
There must be a way to progress publicly -- making students feel recognized for who they are -- as a campus, yet remain sensitive to the closeted population. Many Skidmore students may find support on campus through clubs, friendships, and classes to be themselves. They are proud of who they are -- as they should be -- and wish their peers to know. However, one student’s, or even a handful of students’, experience cannot determine how others will react to similar situations.
Taking into consideration the multifaceted student body and their needs, students should be given ultimate agency over their identity in classroom settings. Professors should not ask for students to share their pronouns, rather create an environment of mutual respect in the classroom where students feel comfortable coming out if they wish. Instead of insisting “share your pronouns” during introductions, it would be more sensitive to tell the class “you may include any personal identifiers if you want.” Ultimately, it is important for non-binary students who wish to provide their pronouns, to do so.
However, the above solutions have their downsides as well. What if one student calls out, asking for their classmates’ pronouns? What if everyone begins introducing their pronouns anyway?
The safest option may be filling out a form to hand in at the end of class. Most professors are already giving students little slips of paper to fill out with any questions or concerns they may have, or write down what they are most looking forward to in the class. Adding another line for pronouns will leave students anonymous to their peers, but will garner greater agency over their identification. However it is important to note that in this solution, non-binary students would not be anonymous to their professors.
The decision made by Admissions is an opportunity for the greater Skidmore community to discuss concerns they have on how to balance progression and sensitivity -- specifically when concerning non-binary or transgender community members. It is important to celebrate everyone’s identities, especially in the classroom. We can effectively do so by empowering students at their own pace, desire, and motivation. Put the power in the students’ hands; they know what they are doing.