Should Professors Ask Pronouns?

Liam Reilly (

Sean McGinley (

As the new semester begins, professors begin classes with the typical icebreakers: name, major, and pronouns. While the inclusion of one’s personal pronouns is an important step in creating an inclusive environment, there are still many amongst the student body and staff that are not used to the practice. As such, we offer a dual approach: We believe that professors should encourage, but not require the sharing of pronouns, even during icebreakers, and include a Canvas prompt for students to express which pronouns they want to be referred to by the professor when in a setting such as office hours versus in the classroom. For the latter, the basis is that some students may feel comfortable sharing their identity with a trusted faculty member but may not be ready to share with their peers. This approach both builds up comfort with sharing pronouns and lets the students set the pace at which they share.

When reaching out to members of the student body, we were met with varied sentiments about whether the use of pronouns should be required or not. Kevin Melton, a sophomore, provided his opinion on the matter. He explained that “while having students share their pronouns on virtual and in-classroom learning is an important step, it can create unfair additional stress and pressure for LGBTQIA+ students to come out.” 

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, brought up further complexities regarding the practice of sharing pronouns. They detailed how “some gender-nonconforming and transgender students may not be comfortable with sharing their pronouns to peers they do not yet know.” They said they “feel as though people should be able to share their pronouns freely, but that it comes with the notice that mistakes happen in regard to misgendering. Part of creating an inclusive classroom environment involves being supportive even during a mistake.”

Encouraging pronoun sharing and being flexible with the rate at which people adapt to students’ pronouns do not have to operate as mutually exclusive practices. We argue for a more inclusive classroom that allows for students to set the pace and level at which they share pronouns. This leaves room for patience and understanding for the rate at which students feel comfortable adapting to personal pronouns. However, awareness needs to be had from cisgender students of the harm improper pronoun usage can lead to. 

For many in the LGBTQIA+ community, coming out can be not just a difficult process, but a legitimately dangerous one as well. The sharing of pronouns is about more than just how one wants to be referred to in a class discussion. It is a validation of their identity, a validation that should be set at their own pace. It is due to these concerns and the student input we received that we conclude the strong encouragement, but not a requirement, of students to share pronouns, combined with professors adding the option to share classroom and one-on-one pronouns on Canvas feels like the best option available.