Preferred names and non-binary pronouns

Preferred names matter

In 2019, Montclair State University adopted a Preferred Name Policy:

Montclair State University recognizes that some individuals have a strong preference to use and be known by a name other than their Legal Name for reasons related to their gender identity, cultural background, or for other social or personal reasons. It is the University’s policy to permit students and employees to designate, use, and be known within the University community by a Preferred Name, to the extent that doing so is consistent with law, assures the integrity of the University’s official records, and is reasonably feasible to accommodate within the University’s record-management systems.

See full Preferred Name Policy; see FAQs.

The policy is new, but the human desire to select one’s name is not new at all.  What is helpful about the policy is that students can systematically inform all of us, at once, as to how they would like to be addressed.  If a student requests that you use a name other than what is listed on your roster, you might remind the student of the policy and direct them to the link in the Montclair Syllabus that facilitates the process of changing one’s names. As always, instructors play a key role in amplifying and directing students to policies that may be helpful.

Non-binary pronouns for a gender-expansive world

Consonant with Montclair’s commitment to affirming personal choice and recognizing historical and contemporary inequities and biases embedded in our society, instructors are encouraged to be forward-thinking and explicitly inclusive in their speech, writing, and pedagogical decisions around pronoun use.  Forward-thinking and inclusive practices can take many different forms, but here are some suggestions:

  • Consider modeling by adding personal pronouns in your email address, syllabi, and in other communications. Proponents of adding pronouns signatures argue that it’s an inclusive move, regardless of the author’s pronoun choice. Simply saying “Hello, I am so and so and my personal pronouns are X, Y, and Z” suggests that pronouns, and gender identification, are decisions that individuals have the right to make and share publicly.  Instructors sharing their pronouns may make it easier for some trans and nonbinary people to feel comfortable sharing their own pronoun choices. Skeptics argue that including pronouns elevates gender, and has become more Pro-forma than meaningful. Make your own decision, but consider communicating your decision — and why you made it — with your students lest they assume meaning you do not wish to convey.
  • Address the topic of non-binary pronouns. It’s likely that most of the readings you provide will not demonstrate non-binary pronoun use. See if you can find some readings that do, and draw students’ attention to how the reading experience changes — for different types of people — when non-binary pronouns are used. Here is a short article, “Gender pronouns are changing: It’s exhilarating,” by linguist John McWhorter who reminds readers that language is always changing and that if you find yourself really annoyed by the language change of the new singular “they,” you might really be upset about more than language change.
  • Demonstrate inclusivity through course topic, source selection, and author and creator decisions.  Through the course of a semester, instructors make hundreds of references and guide students through dozens of texts.  Review these textual decisions with an analytic eye: who is represented implicitly and explicitly? More to the point, who is not? Are your syllabi, lectures notes, and references suitable for a gender-expansive world?  If your answer is no, start today with a new reading, video, quote-of-the-day, topic, assignment, or homework question.
  • Communicate belonging to all your students.  A smile, a direct look at someone’s eyes, and other simple efforts at 1-1 engagement communicate acceptance to students. Are such efforts necessary?  Probably, and especially for people who are on the edges of full inclusion. Some people always feel like they belong, that they are accepted. Others do not, though they will try hard to mask alienation and discomfort. Study after study demonstrates that people who are outside of the majority — by race, gender, ethnicity, evident ableness, age, religion, — often do not feel like they belong unless someone from the inside explicitly invites them in. Instructors are perfectly situated to communicate belonging or, without effort, to communicate exclusion.
  • See more ideas from the LGBTQ center on Making classes welcoming for transgender and gender-variant students.
  • Want to step it up? Attend a Safe Space Program workshop, offered by the LGBTQ Center, to learn lots more about strategies and tools to combat phobia and internalized heterosexism.