Professors begin to use preferred names and pronouns in classroom environments

With the semester underway, a few professors have started to implement the classroom use of personally-favored names and pronouns.

Communications Professor Daniel DuBray said he passed out a personal information sheet to his students on the first day of class where they could indicate their preferred names and pronouns. On the sheet, he said he included a question about preferences to pronouns such as he, she, they and ze, also including “other” as an option because he said there are several different versions of gender-neutral pronouns.

“Some professors are making that switch to asking for personal pronouns and asking what students prefer,” said Ben Wingard, a campus librarian and a tri-chair of the Cultural Competence and Equity Committee. “In general, that is a good way for professors to signal that it’s an issue they care about.”

Like DuBray, Sociology Professor Donnisha Lugo said she tries to be aware of her students’ pronoun preferences.

“I try to be just conscious and aware of it,” Lugo said. “I’ve had students in the past who were in the middle of transitioning so we went ahead and they let me know their situation and what they prefer to be called and I went along with it and I could tell as well the students kind of followed my lead.”

I try to be just conscious and aware of it.”

— Donnisha Lugo

Wingard said using students’ preferred names and pronouns is a “sign of respect.”

“It’s a sign that you respect their decisions and you respect them as people,” Wingard said.

Trystan Simpson, an 18-year-old animation major, said it would be easier for them if professors would ask students about their preferred pronouns. They said it could be scary talking to professors about issues like this.

“It’s like coming out to a professor,” Simpson said.  

Simpson said they don’t feel validated in classroom settings, saying that a few of the professors they’ve talked to about their preferred pronouns haven’t really used them or have “forgotten” to use them.

“A lot of the students have been really nice about it,” Simpson said.

Simpson said that faculty can be more educated on the use of pronouns and on transgender issues in general.

“We could always do more to support students in general and trans students in particular and I think that’s what we’re always striving to do,” Wingard said. “We’re always striving to improve our services and improve our student outcomes, improve equity for all student groups.”

Wingard said that while he thinks the use of preferred names and pronouns should be institutionalized, there could be complications with the way it would be implemented.

We could always do more to support students in general and trans students in particular.”

— Ben Wingard


“Some of these come down to details about how you implement it in the classroom,” Wingard said.

DuBray said he likes using personal information sheets because it avoids the situation of  students directly or openly saying what kind of pronouns they prefer.

“It leaves some type of confidentiality,” DuBray said.

Ultimately, Lugo said using students’ preferred names and pronouns should be a goal professors should strive for.

“It only helps to make all students feel more included,” Lugo said.   

DuBray, however, said the decision is a matter of “academic freedom.”

“Some professors, for whatever reasons, may not feel that it’s something that they need to concern themselves with in the classroom,” DuBray said. “If that’s the viewpoint they want to take, then I would certainly be supportive of their academic freedom.”

Wingard said he encouraged transgender and non-binary students to come to a CCE meeting and talk to them about things they could do better.  

“They are welcome here,” Wingard said. “We are a place that supports them. Our campus is one that supports them and that we want them to feel welcomed here.”