As our fall semester is about to start, I found myself reflecting on what I have done over the years to better support my students, and most important, on what I am still missing.
Over my 20 years as a professor of Computer Science, mulling over how to best serve my students, I have made a number of changes in my ways of instruction and assessment. For instance, I revised the order and level at which I teach topics, to make sure I allowed my students to discover and successively revisit topics throughout the semester, hence building familiarity and mastery. I radically changed my philosophy of grading, in an effort to be equitable and true to what learning means. I created a truly safe environment for my students to experience failure and be allowed to come back from it without grade penalties, simply because learning requires experimenting and making mistakes. I strived to eliminate any course policy that would penalize students based on circumstances they have no control over (work outside campus, children’s responsibilities, lack of role models, poor academic preparedness, etc.).
Recently, informed by readings I did over the last year but also simply inspired by our students, I realized that I was missing out on an important part of inclusivity in my classrooms: identity. Although I always make a point to know my students’ names, to try and remember their path and our conversations, to make them feel seen and values, what if I missed out on something very important? What if I did not call them by the name they chose, not the one I see on my roster of students? What if I used pronouns that they do not identify with?
I want my students to feel valued and respected, and that starts with their identity: name and pronouns. Of course, that does not mean I will never forget a name or misuse pronouns (it has and will happen again). I am very bad at names but work really hard to remember them: I will make mistakes and keep practicing, but I will eventually get them right after about 3 weeks (that’s usually how much time it takes me, give or take, to remember all names). Regarding pronouns, it will take me a little while to get used to them, mostly because of the grammar I am not used to using. However, I believe that if I am allowed to make mistakes (the mistakes of someone who is learning, just like I recognize that all learners must make mistakes to learn), I will soon become used to them. I certainly commit to make all efforts to getting them right.
So here are a few things I am going to start doing this semester:
- I am sharing my name, accepted ways of calling me, and my pronouns in my syllabus.
- My whole instructional team (teaching assistants) will share their pronouns as well.
- I am adding language in my syllabus about the fact that I respect each student’s pronouns and chosen name.
- I will not use my roster of students to call students: instead, on the first day of classes, I will ask them to fill out a form in which they will be able to inform me of their pronouns and preferred name. I will then use these instead of the possibly incorrect information of my roster. Students will be allowed to change this information at any time during the semester (the only issue will be for me to adjust and relearn names, which I am even worse at than learning the first time, but oh well, it is on me, and I will try my hardest).
In addition, I will involve students in building a set of ground rules and agreements for our class, focusing on respect.
Below are references that helped me review effective practices in honoring names and pronouns.
- ASEE: https://docs.asee.org/public/LGBTQ/Classroom%20Inclusion%20Strategies.pdf
- Kansas University: https://sgd.ku.edu/syllabus-recommendations
- NYU Professor’s needs assessment form: https://www.nyu.edu/life/global-inclusion-and-diversity/learning-and-development/toolkits/trans-inclusive-classrooms.html
- Oregon State University: https://osucascades.edu/faculty-handbook/teaching/gender-identity-and-personal-pronouns-syllabus-guidance
- University of Arizona: https://libguides.library.arizona.edu/c.php?g=744315&p=5350892
- Vanderbilt’s Pronoun Guidance: https://www.vanderbilt.edu/lgbtqi/resources/pronoun-guidance
- Vanderbilt’s Teaching beyond the Gender Binary in the Classroom: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/