What do students think about teachers asking for preferred pronouns?

KC Ciresi, Molly Gregory, and Macy Waddle

With the start of a new school year, many teachers have implemented a new question within their usual get-to-know-you activities: what are your preferred pronouns? Although not mandatory, many teachers have begun adding this question into their introductory classes.

In a poll on RedEye’s Instagram, out of 340 voters, 70 percent said that their teachers asked for their preferred pronouns and 30 percent said their teachers did not.

This new change has students divided. On Instagram, RedEye asked followers whether they felt as though teachers should be required to ask for students’ pronouns. Out of 305 voters, 77 percent voted yes and 23 percent voted no. Many of those in favor think that it could open avenues for transgender students (or anyone who identifies with different pronouns than they were assigned at birth) to feel more comfortable in their classes.

“I feel like it opens up an outlet for students that are maybe scared of sharing their preferred pronouns, and a chance to do so, and know that they won’t be judged, and they will be accepted. For example, one of my friends who uses they/them pronouns was scared of telling their teachers their preference, and if the teachers were required to ask for pronouns they might not have been as scared” Grayson Beverly (9, YPAS) said in a direct message to RedEye’s Instagram.

Though this gives students an opportunity to share, it is possible not all transgender students would feel comfortable taking it.

“Closeted students would have the opportunity to come out with this, but of course if they aren’t comfortable, they can answer with their closeted pronouns. But I think this would also help for closeted students to know that they would be accepted for who they are if or when they decide to come out,” Beverly added.

“I worry that, say students are required to say them out loud in class, it would make it stressful for them if they aren’t completely in touch with their identity yet. If the question were on a get-to-know-you worksheet or something similar, then yes, I strongly agree that teachers should be made aware of pronouns. But, if the process is rushed, then I’m afraid it would just make students uncomfortable,” Liz Bryant (11, MST) said.

“If any student is uncomfortable with saying it out loud in class, they can submit it privately in the form of a Google Form or a note. Further, if any student is uncomfortable with sharing their pronouns in any form, they should be referred to with gender neutral pronouns so as to not make incorrect assumptions,” Kristina Nguyen (11, MST) said.

One student added that teachers often make assumptions about pronouns that aren’t always correct.

“Many teachers already ask for the pronunciation of students’ names or whether students use nicknames or not. These are other reflections of identity. Asking for students’ pronouns and using them is a small but imperative step towards acknowledging and respecting their full identities,” Nguyen commented.

Some students believe that teachers should ask, but it shouldn’t be mandatory.

“I don’t think they should be required to. I feel that it is just a courtesy thing, and it is very nice and polite when they do so. I don’t think that they have to,” Ellie Kingsbury (9, YPAS) said.

Many students against the concept of a mandate for teachers to ask preferred pronouns declined to comment. Others say it should be required.

“I feel that any and all questions that aid in making students feel safe and accepted should be a requirement. No matter what anyone believes, we are all human, and we deserve our right of being valid in society and that starts with questions as simple as ‘what are your pronouns?’ and ‘what name/names make you feel most comfortable?’” Beverly said.

Another student agrees that asking for preferred pronouns is about respect.

“I think it’s the respectful thing to do. We are all old enough to the point that if we want to have different pronouns or names then we should have the right to say something about it. If teachers want us to call them a certain name, or tell us how to pronounce their names, then we should be able to do the same. It’s the same thing when it comes to referring to anyone. Pronouns and names are paired,” Annabelle O’Neal (12, VA) said.

As the normalization of asking preferred pronouns becomes more prevalent, many students have taken to putting their pronouns in their social media biographies. 77 percent of voters on RedEye’s Instagram said they had taken this step. This is seen as a gesture to help transgender people feel more comfortable when telling people their preferred pronouns, since people may mistake them for someone they are not.