A small but important gesture can make our classrooms and colleges more inviting and more respectful to more people

Home|Blog|A small but important gesture can make our classrooms and colleges more inviting and more respectful to more people

By Carla Kimbrough, VCCS manager of diversity and strategic recruitment

“Good morning, I’m Carla Kimbrough. I use the pronouns she, her, hers…I’m pleased to meet you. What pronouns do you use?”

Image of Carla Kimbrough

Kimbrough

You might react, “What? Why? That’s a strange introduction.” I certainly understand such reactions. This introduction method is new to me, too.  However, I see this approach as becoming more useful in our increasingly diverse society.

The use of pronouns creates an environment of ease, respect and dignity.  Ease occurs when I remove the uncertainty – and, the personal pressure – of trying to determine the gender identity of someone. When I ask about the individual’s pronouns, I have just escaped moments of embarrassment – mine and theirs. I also have treated the person with respect and dignity.

This post is published ahead of International Pronouns Day on Oct. 21. The organizers describe the observance like this: “International Pronouns Day seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people.”

What does using personal pronouns mean for the students we serve? As faculty members (I’m a former faculty member), we can make our classrooms safe spaces for learning by welcoming students and seeing students as they want to be seen. When they come into our virtual or physical classrooms, do we insist on addressing them as we see them and ridiculing them because they don’t align to our personal values? Or, do we acknowledge their humanity and treat them with dignity by addressing them as they see themselves? Using personal pronouns also signals to students who may provide support they need when they need it.

One faculty member I met allows students to alert him about preferred names (and gender identity) prior to the course start. This faculty member does this to avoid misunderstandings from Day 1. The practice of using pronouns should extend beyond the classroom as well. If you’re interacting with students and supporting their development, we can all keep this practice in mind.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the employees we now have or the employees we hope to hire. Within our 23 community colleges, we have people who are bringing their authentic selves to work. Some employees are reintroducing themselves as transgender people to their colleagues. Such personal decisions occur after much thought and care. We respect our colleagues by addressing them in the way they desire.

In hiring, we should focus on skills and experience rather than on whether we think a person “fits” into the workplaces we have created. Research about the hiring process has shown that we tend to hire people like ourselves. That means people who may have a different gender identity or a different race may be disadvantaged in our hiring processes. That’s why we have search advocates at our colleges. In a war for talent, we must be open to and see diversity as a strength.

All of us should remember that everything we do is about our students, not us. We are here to help our students learn so they can earn the opportunities they seek to improve their lives and their communities. Without students, our colleges would cease to exist.

As I shared my new approach to introductions, you may wish to explore this topic on your own. Therefore, I am sharing websites about personal pronouns and International Pronouns Day, which provides multiple resources, including videos, email signature examples and syllabus advice provided by other higher education institutions.

Here are some examples of how you might include pronouns in your email signature:

Walden T. Pond
Walden University
100 Washington Square
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401
Pronouns: he, him, his

Walden T. Pond (they, them, theirs)
Walden University
100 Washington Square, Suite 900
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Walden T. Pond
Pronouns: she, her, hers
Walden University
100 Washington Square, Suite 900
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Walden T. Pond
Walden University
100 Washington Square, Suite 900
Minneapolis, MN 55401
*xe/xem/xyrs

Source: click here.

On Oct. 21, I hope I will hear from colleagues at Virginia’s Community Colleges, letting me know that they are expanding the notion of who belongs. Two small steps can be adding pronouns to the email signature lines or adopting a new approach to introductions, but you may find many other ways to take part in this observance.  #PronounsDay

You can reach Carla Kimbrough via email:  ckimbrough@vccs.edu

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