This post is a collaboration between Kena Mallender and Phaedra Carroll.
As part of UTS’s commitment to social justice and inclusion, students and staff can now select their pronouns in Canvas to display on their Canvas profile.
Pronouns may be a little confusing if you haven’t used them before. To help you understand the best ways to use them when it comes to students, we reached out to Kena, a current UTS student, to shed some light on what pronouns are, what they mean, and how we should be using them.
Meet Kena (they/them): While studying a Bachelor of Communications (Media Arts & Production) and a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence & Innovation, Kena is also a saxophone teacher who plays in two community wind ensembles, enjoys hanging out underwater snorkelling, diving and surfing, and – as if they aren’t busy enough – is also starting The Deaf Society’s Diploma in Auslan in two weeks, having completed their Cert IV in 2021.
We’ll let Kena take it from here.
What are pronouns?
Pronouns are the words in English we use to refer to nouns. Some examples are it, he, they, she and we. Some examples of possessive pronouns are its, his, their, hers, yours and ours. You may be thinking, should I be using pronouns? The fact is you already are! And you have your whole life. We usually assume someone’s pronouns based on their physical appearance; if we see a woman taking the lectern we might ask the person next to us, ‘Who’s she?/What’s her name?’. However, it’s not always polite or accurate to assume that person is a woman or uses traditionally feminine pronouns like she/her/hers.
Can I ask someone about their pronouns?
Yes. It’s best practice to ask someone what pronouns they use, especially if you’re not sure. This can easily be done by asking, ‘Excuse me, I was just wondering what pronouns you use?’.
Asking for someone’s pronouns, and then doing your best to use them, is a sign of respect and acknowledges our human diversity. You may want to ask the person in private, or when you’re not in a crowded room full of people, and it would be a good idea to follow up their response by asking if they’re comfortable with you using their pronouns in public, everyday settings. Some people might be comfortable disclosing their gender identity and pronouns to you in confidence, but not yet ready to share that with the world, so be mindful.
Pronouns in a classroom, what does that mean to students and for teachers?
In a classroom setting, pronouns should be used and respected just like any other context.
Tip: If it’s your first tutorial you’re likely going to be breaking the ice with an introduce-yourself-style activity. This is a great opportunity to casually pop in your pronouns when you say your name, your certifications and a fun fact about yourself.
Leading by example helps to normalise sharing pronouns in everyday settings and can give shy students the courage to announce theirs. An example of this was in my first year, first session at UTS, when an older student said her name and that she uses she/her. She presented feminine and everyone would have assumed she uses she/her anyway, but hearing her say that gave me the courage to say my name and that my pronouns are they/them. Even having come out in high school and using they/them for years, the transition to university meant that I had to come out again to my new tertiary colleagues. Opening up a space to talk about, acknowledge and respect people’s pronouns in the classroom is excellent practice for adult life and can make gender-diverse people feel welcome.
What happens if I make a mistake?
I’ve just used the wrong pronouns – what do I do?! Mistakes are ok, especially when you are learning. You may feel embarrassed or guilty for messing up but trust me when I say trans* folk are used to it. All we need from you is a quick self-correction and to move straight on. You don’t even need to say ‘Oops, sorry, when he arrived this morning…’. Apologising is okay, but it might make the person whose pronouns you incorrectly used feel awkward. Please do not say something like ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I feel terrible…’. This is awkward for both of you, and makes a big deal out of a small slip-up.
Tip: Simple self-correction and move on: ‘When she arrived- I mean, when he arrived this morning…’.
Should I correct someone else if they make a mistake?
What about when someone else uses the wrong pronoun? Generally, leave it to the person whose pronouns were misused to correct the situation. If they don’t, and you think they may be bothered, or not have the courage to correct other people, you can privately talk to them after the situation and ask if they would like you to tell the offending person on behalf of them.
It’s also a good idea to follow up by asking if they’re okay with you correcting other people for their slip-ups all the time. Whenever you correct someone else’s pronoun slip-up, be sure to do it calmly, politely, and without any tone of reprimand. A simple ‘excuse me, but his pronouns are he/him’ will suffice!
Tip: Staying cool and polite when talking about pronouns – whether used correctly or not – helps to keep the conversation open, let others learn and be corrected without fear of retribution, and generally makes experiences with pronouns positive, or neutral, which is what helps to normalise them.
Should I be sharing my pronouns?
Yes! If you feel comfortable doing so, telling your fellow staff, students and colleagues about your pronouns (even if they’re the same ones you’ve used your whole life) helps to normalise conversations and ultimately makes gender-diverse people feel safer and more welcome.
How to select pronouns in Canvas
We’ve put together a quick resource to guide you through how to select your pronouns with the new Canvas feature, as well as where you’ll see someone’s pronouns when they are switched on. Take a look at Using the pronoun feature in Canvas on LX Resources to find out more.
Note: Selecting your pronouns in Canvas is optional. Your selected pronouns will be shown beside your name when posting in a public space, such as a discussion forum. Other staff and students will be able to view your pronouns on your profile and in public spaces. Users with access to the People tool will also be able to view your pronouns. You can review and update your pronouns in Canvas at any time via Settings.
Feature image by Sean Sinclair.