Home Academia & Research What Are Your Pronouns? CSD Faculty Members Share Theirs

What Are Your Pronouns? CSD Faculty Members Share Theirs

by Dawn Vogler-Elias
written by and
hand holds a heart painted like a LGBT flag, silhouetted against sun

“Good morning, boys and girls!”

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen.”

It might surprise you to learn these common greetings can be exclusionary—or a microaggression—for people in the LGBTQ+ community. As a cisgender communication sciences and disorders (CSD) faculty, we learned from our students and colleagues how simply changing the language we use to address people creates a more inclusive environment.

What’s the big deal about pronouns?

No one set of pronouns fits all. It’s impossible to know what pronoun a person uses without asking them. As speech-language pathologists, we understand the value of pronouns to each individual, as well as how to correctly use them. Using someone’s personal gender pronoun is a vital step toward inclusion.

The binary pronouns are she/her/hers and he/him/his. Non-gender-specific singular pronouns include they/them/theirs or ze/hir/hirs.

Misgendering occurs when referring to a person using a word, most likely a pronoun, that does not reflect the gender with which they identify. This occurs intentionally or unintentionally. Misgendering can cause feelings of disrespect, invalidation, or even invisibility.

 

A senior undergraduate student in our department described their experience of being misgendered:

I use “they/them/theirs” pronouns because those pronouns feel comfortable to me. I feel like those words accurately describe who I am, and when my pronouns are not used I feel like I’m not seen. It takes immense bravery and strength for someone to live as their authentic self. To be open and honest with the world about your identity, just to be constantly reminded that you’re viewed as someone you are not, is harmful.

After working with students and colleagues in other departments, here’s what our CSD faculty learned to do to avoid misgendering with incorrect pronouns:
  • Introduce yourself with your pronouns. This offers others the opportunity to do the same. Or ask what pronouns a person prefers: “I don’t make any assumptions about the pronouns people use; which pronouns would you like me to use for you?”
  • Share your pronouns in email signatures, name badges, business cards, and on your office door. Sharing your pronouns normalizes the practice and reduces the chance for someone to be misgendered.
  • Use “they/them/their,” when you don’t know someone’s pronouns. If you unintentionally misgender someone, promptly apologize, continue on with the conversation, and try again at the next opportunity.
  • Address groups with gender-inclusive terms such as: everyone, y’all, folks, colleagues, or friends. Avoid binary terms such as “you guys” or “ladies and gentlemen.”
  • Talk about what title, if any, someone prefers. Avoid gendered titles such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Sir, and Ma’am. Consider inclusive titles such as teacher, professor, student, Mx (“muks”/“mix”), and Misc (“misk”), or use their name.
  • Advocate for changing outdated binary language in standardized assessments, clinical materials, forms, documents, and written policies.

ASHA’s Code of Ethics obligates us to provide services in an atmosphere free from discrimination. The current lack of diversity in our field means we must be increasingly vigilant to seek opportunities to advocate and learn from those around us. Let’s model gender-inclusive language and gently educate others when an opportunity arises.

Susan Mack, MS, CCC-SLP, pronouns: she, her, hers, is an associate clinical professor in communication sciences and disorders at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. She coordinates and oversees educational clinical placements. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; and 16, School-Based Issues. smack2@naz.edu.

Dawn Vogler-Elias, PhD, CCC-SLP, pronouns: she, her, hers, is an associate professor in communication sciences and disorders at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, and directs the speech-language pathology graduate program. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language, Learning, and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 11, Administration and Supervision. dvogler9@naz.edu

Thank you to our contributors:

Anna Goings, pronouns: they/them/theirs,  and Erin Potter,  pronouns: she/they, are undergraduate students at Nazareth College. Olajiwon K. McCadney, pronouns: he/him/his and they/them/theirs, is the director for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Education in the Division for Community & Belonging at Nazareth College.

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11 comments

Trina February 18, 2020 - 12:01 pm

What about goals around pronouns? I work with kindergarteners who struggle with grammar, including pronouns. One of my common goals is producing sentences with pronoun and present progressive verbs (he is running, she is swimming, etc.) based on photos. Any advice?

Reply
Dawn Vogler-Elias February 18, 2020 - 6:42 pm

Hi Trina-
This is a great point that needs further discussion. We’ve discussed it within our own department and have decided that it’s an area where more work has to be done. This is a great opportunity for a future article, more discussion, and further research.

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Brian Humphrey February 18, 2020 - 1:34 pm

“He” and “she” come to us from Old English and Middle English.
Living languages continue to evolve.

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Anu Subramanian February 18, 2020 - 8:48 pm

Important article!! I had a student tell me that they felt ‘outed’ during a training when everyone went around and introduced themselves with their pronouns. They were not ready to come out to the group yet and felt they were forced to. I know that was not the intention of the group but it left the student really upset. Any suggestions?
Thanks

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Anna Goings February 24, 2020 - 10:50 am

Thank you for pointing this out; this is a fairly common problem. Some other options include introducing yourself to a group with your pronouns but not asking others directly to do so. You could also invite the group to share their pronouns if they wish. In a class environment, you could send an electronic or paper survey asking if a student wants to share a pronoun or name for you to use and if you have their consent to use it in public settings. At our institution, students and faculty have the option to specify their pronouns and name in our electronic management system, so it shows up to faculty and staff if the individual chooses to share. I hope this helps!

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David February 20, 2020 - 9:29 am

This article presupposes that all individuals will value gender identity as one of their most important defining characteristics, hence the suggestion to “Introduce yourself with your pronouns.” There are many characteristics that individuals may choose to define who they are: relationships, ethnicity, religion, occupation, age, ability, disability, etc. (https://leader.pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/leader.FMP.20032015.6). Assuming at the outset of a conversation that individuals will choose gender identity as the most significant personal characteristic ignores diversity rather than fostering it. Certainly, SLPs should be gracious toward all individuals and strive for competent communication in all settings. Asking a variety of questions without making assumptions is how we can best learn someone’s personal and cultural identity.

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Susan Mack February 24, 2020 - 4:04 pm

As SLPs, our job is to observe and create a communicative environment that is safe and welcoming for all. Introducing with your pronouns will not work in many interactions, in fact it could cause some to not feel safe. Being respectful and mindful of individual communication partners personal and cultural identity is so important. We appreciate that you highlighted this and agree that not making assumptions and asking questions is what creates a mutual respect.

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Laura Ristovski February 24, 2020 - 9:12 am

Why are we bowing to be politically correct? What is this change of pronouns grounded it? The English language has been around for hundreds of year and now are are changing it on a whim? Aren’t we trainined as speech language pathologists to be scientific? This is anything BUT scientific. So children can decide (without parent consent) what gender they want to be called and we (as adult professionals who are scientifically trained) must acquiese to their wants? Come on people!

Editor’s note: The last sentence in this comment was deleted in accordance with ASHA Civility guidelines. https://blog.asha.org/2019/04/19/ashas-4-tenets-of-civility-a-guide-to-public-discussions/

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Anna Goings February 24, 2020 - 3:34 pm

Laura, you bring up some interesting counterpoints. We feel that being politically correct is an important consideration for a Speech-Language Pathologist. SLP’s need to be aware of changes in the usage and importance of pronouns for a few reasons. First, providing voice therapy services for transgender clients is within our scope of practice; SLPs also teach young children about pronoun usage. It is additionally possible that we will encounter a transgender or gender non-conforming client, co-worker, student, or family at any time, which is why we need to make language changes to accommodate those peoples’ identities and effectively communicate with our clients. As for the scientific roots in these language changes, language transforms in different ways every day. There has also been research that discusses the benefits validating peoples’ identity, including children, who (as young as two years old) can understand and express their gender: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Gender-Identity-and-Gender-Confusion-In-Children.aspx If you feel unequipped to provide any services mentioned earlier you may want to consider referring those clients to another clinician who can.

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Pamela K Rowe February 26, 2020 - 5:08 am

This is an interesting and complicated issue. I prefer specificity in using names. It is also interesting to read ASHA’s position regarding these issues.

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Laura Ristovski February 26, 2020 - 8:47 am

The opposite side of the coin:

Aticle on pronoun usage and the importance of their origins.

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/01/transgender-pronouns-fifth-circuit-rejects-them-and-lie-they-stand-on/

Reply

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