New York City employers and landlords, as of May, can be fined up to $250,000 for calling someone by the wrong pronoun. Many other states and countries are making moves toward reducing aggression against trans, non-binary and queer individuals who do not subscribe to traditional gender roles. As a SUNY school, Geneseo should be doing the same to protect its students.
I was shocked when the fall 2017 semester started and the topic of pronouns was never discussed in my smaller classes. Professors primarily would dictate that students share information in the dreaded icebreaker games, such as names, majors and hometowns—but not one student gave their preferred pronouns.
When pronouns are not explicitly stated in a classroom, individuals are forced to resort to heteronormative biases. In this setting, gender must be assumed based on hair, clothing and general outward appearance.
This is problematic. Individuals with breasts can go by he/him pronouns; students with short hair can go by she/her. You will never know someone’s correct pronouns if you don’t ask. Furthermore, a mislabeled person is not likely to tell you if the topic is not necessary in the conversation.
Though not everyone harbors malicious intent when they misgender someone, using the incorrect pronoun when addressing someone has become a form of hate-speech and a violation of basic human rights. Both “gender identity and gender expression” are now being recognized as a human right, according to The Daily Caller.
It’s up to Geneseo professors to begin the process of correct pronoun usage in the classroom. Many professors are Safe Zone trained, and while this training is beneficial in creating a welcoming environment, their actual commitment to forming a safe space for LGBTQ+ people falls short when professors misgender their students. This can create an uncomfortable—if not hostile—environment for misgendered students, impacting their participation in class and feelings of self-worth.
It’s especially important for Geneseo professors to start the conversation about pronouns in the classroom. They represent the school, and neglecting to address students’ pronouns can make a misgendered student feel unaccepted.
When classes participate in icebreakers, they should be required to ask for students’ preferred pronouns. Not only will this create a more accepting and affirming environment, but it also will allow the professor and class to adjust their actions accordingly so that they are appropriately referring to each student. As a result, no individual in the class will feel ashamed or angry due to unintentional pronoun-related mistakes.
Even in a large seminar of 200 or more people, this inclusivity can extend into lab classes, office hours and one-on-one talks with students, both in and out of the classroom.
Slip-ups and awkward flubs of speech will happen; what is important is that a welcoming and inclusive environment is created in the classroom and that individuals—both professors and students—correct themselves if they misgender someone.
It is up to the professors and administrators of Geneseo to take action regarding pronouns to make their students feel welcome.u