UMass Amherst Pronoun FAQ
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to valuing and validating the gender identity and expression of members of the campus community. Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth or the sex designation on their legal documents. One way that UMass Amherst seeks to create gender-inclusive academic, living, and work environments is by encouraging all members of the campus community to indicate the pronouns they use for themselves, if desired, in classes, residence halls, workplaces, and other settings, and by encouraging members of the campus community to respect these pronouns.
What is a pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun or a noun phrase to refer to individuals. Pronouns can be in the first person singular (I, me) or plural (we, us); second person singular or plural (you); and the third person singular (e.g., she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir) or plural (they/them).
What are gendered pronouns?
Gendered pronouns specifically reference someone’s gender: he/him/his or she/her/hers.
What are non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns?
Non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns are not gender specific and are often used by people who identify outside of a gender binary. The most common set of nonbinary pronouns is they/them/their used in the singular (e.g., Jadzia identifies as genderqueer; they do not see themselves as either female or male). Other nonbinary pronouns include ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he, and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her (e.g., Jadzia runs hir own business, but ze is more well-known as an author).
What about “it” and “he-she?”
The terms “it” or “he-she” are slurs used against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
Why should I be asking people what pronouns they use?
It is important to ask for pronouns because you cannot assume how someone identifies their gender based on their appearance. Using the wrong pronouns for someone may lead them to feel disrespected, invalidated, and marginalized.
What is the best way to ask someone about their pronouns?
You can simply ask, “What pronouns do you use for yourself?” or “What pronouns should I be using for you?” Asking for pronouns may feel awkward at first, but getting someone’s pronouns wrong may be even more awkward.
What if I make a mistake?
It’s okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. If you use the wrong pronoun for someone, you can say something like, “Sorry, I meant they,” and continue your conversation.
What if I hear others making a mistake?
In most cases, you may gently correct the person who made the mistake without further embarrassing the individual who was misgendered. You can say something like, “Actually, Jadzia uses ‘they’ for themselves.”
FAQ adapted in part from Ohio University’s “Preferred Pronouns Faculty FAQ”
Suggestions for Faculty to Respect the Gender Identity of Students
In small classes, faculty members may elect to use various methods to give students the ability to indicate their pronouns, including:
- Have students introduce themselves, giving the name and pronouns they use for themselves;
- Have students turn in a sheet of paper that indicates the name and pronouns they use for themselves;
- Give each student a sheet of cardstock to create a placard with their name and pronouns on it that they would then set in front of them.
In large classes, faculty members are unlikely to be able to learn every student’s name and pronouns. In such classes, faculty may elect to simply avoid referring to students by gender. For example, if a faculty member wants to acknowledge something that a student has said, the instructor may refer to the person using “they” (“as they said . . .”) or by gesturing to the student and using “you” (“as you said . . .”). A faculty member may also elect to avoid calling on students by gender. For example, instead of calling on “the woman in the back of the room” to ask or answer a question, an instructor can call on “the person in the purple sweater in the back of the room.”
Faculty members may choose to have a name and pronoun policy on their syllabi, such as the following:
Name and Pronouns: Everyone has the right to be addressed and referred to by the name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, including the use of non-binary pronouns (such as “they/them” or “ze/hir”). Class rosters have a student’s legal first name, unless they have entered a preferred/chosen first name on SPIRE. Pronouns are not included on rosters, so students will be asked to indicate the pronouns that they use for themselves whenever they are asked to share their names (a student is not obligated to provide their pronouns, though). A student’s chosen name and pronouns should be respected at all times in the classroom.
Resources on How to Use, Ask, and Share Pronouns
- “Resources on Personal Pronouns”: https://www.mypronouns.org
- “Practice with Pronouns”: http://www.practicewithpronouns.com
- University of Maryland LGBT Equity Center: "Sharing Your Pronouns" video
- "Using Preferred Names and Gender Pronouns at the University of Iowa" video