UMass Amherst Pronoun FAQ
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to valuing and validating the gender identities and expressions 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/zir) 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 zir (pronounced “zer”) in place of his/him/her (e.g., Jadzia runs zir own business, but ze is more well-known as an author).
What about “it?”
Some nonbinary individuals use "it/its" as their pronouns and ask others to refer to them this way. But because “it” has historically been used as a slur against trans people, the word should not be used outside of the individuals who ask to be known by "it."
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. Avoid over-apologizing, which further creates an awkward situation.
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.”
Suggestions for Instructors to Respect the Gender Identity of Students
Students can go into SPIRE (under "my personal information") and enter their pronouns, which will appear on class rosters, advisee lists, the student services center, and other administrative pages in SPIRE.
If few students have their pronouns on the roster, instructors can ask them to provide their pronouns, if they wish.
In small classes, instructors 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;
- Pass out cardstock and have the students write down their names and, if desired, their pronouns to place on the desk or table in front of them. You could also use name tags for the first few class sessions.
- Ask the students to write down their names and pronouns on an index card for you to collect (this is a less useful strategy because you learn students’ pronouns, but the students to do not learn each other’s pronouns).
In large classes, instructors should avoid gendering students unless you know how they identify their gender. Suggestions for how to call on students without gendering them:
- Gesture to the person you are calling on and say something like, “as you pointed out” or “as they pointed out."
- Instead of saying something like, “the gentleman in the back, what is your question?” you can say, “the person in the back in the purple sweater, what is your question?”
Instructors 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 by the name and pronouns that they use for themselves. Students can indicate their preferred/chosen first name and pronouns on SPIRE, which appear on class rosters. Please let me know what name and pronouns I should use for you if they are not on the roster. A student’s chosen name and pronouns are to 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
- Pronouny: Share Your Personal Pronouns ad Stay Updated on Your Friends' Pronouns: https://pronouny.xyz
- American Psychological Association Pronoun Fact Sheet
- University of Maryland LGBT Equity Center: "Sharing Your Pronouns" video
- University of Iowa pronoun tutorial video
- International Pronouns Day: https://pronounsday.org
- Sinclair Sexsmith, “Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns on Your ‘Hello My Name Is' Name Tag”: article
- Mary Retta. “Work Sucks, Especially When People Get Your Pronouns Wrong”: article
- RJ Joseph, “Degendering the Language of Customer Service”: article
- Dean Spade, “We Still Need Pronoun Go-Rounds”: article
- Oliver L. Haimson and Lee Airton, “Making Space for Them, Her, Him, and ‘Prefer Not to Disclose’ in Group Settings: Why Pronoun-Sharing Is Important But Must Remain Optional”: article
- “What Does It Mean to Misgender Someone?”: article
- AC Dumlao, “100 Ways to Make the World Better for Non-Binary People”: article