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New initiatives increase pronoun visibility at WSU

Someone holding a whiteboard sign that reads 'Hello. My pronouns are…'

Washington State University is celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month and International Pronouns Day with new initiatives that will allow students to include their pronouns on class rosters and CougarCards.

The initiatives aim to increase pronoun visibility throughout the WSU system and are the result of several months of collaboration between Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU), the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center (GIESORC), the Division of Student Affairs, Information Technology Services, and the Commission for Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation.

“This effort is important because using pronouns in this way affirms people for who they are,” said Matthew Jeffries, director of campus climate and community building and director of GIESORC. “When people are affirmed they feel like they’re part of the community, and we want students to feel like they belong in our spaces.”

Creating a welcoming environment

The initiatives started in spring 2021, when Carstens began looking for opportunities to increase visibility around gender identity and expression and landed on the idea of including students’ pronouns on class rosters.

“I had the thought that if professors had access to students’ pronouns, they could create a more welcoming learning environment,” she said. 

She drafted an ASWSU resolution encouraging WSU to include pronouns on class rosters to demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and “support towards students who may not use binary pronouns.” At the suggestion of an ASWSU colleague, she added CougarCards to the resolution; as a major form of identification throughout the system, CougarCards are a good way to increase pronoun visibility.

After ASWSU passed the resolution this spring, Carstens partnered with GIESORC to implement the initiative system-wide. Jeffries convened a committee of students, staff, and faculty to create a plan to add pronouns to rosters and CougarCards. 

The result of that collaborative effort is a list in myWSU that students, staff, and faculty can use to select their pronouns. Although the committee wasn’t able to include all possible pronouns, Jeffries said he’s hopeful that the available options will let all Cougs find “something that’s the right fit for them.” 

Student pronouns listed in myWSU will be pulled into class rosters so that faculty can see and use the correct pronouns for students in their classes.

“This really opens the conversation around gender identity and expression and pronouns at WSU,” said Katie Carstens, ASWSU honors senator, senate pro tempore, and the author of the ASWSU resolution that spurred the initiative. “Misgendering can have really harmful effects, and this is a great step toward creating space for people to learn about the fluidity of gender and how students are expressing themselves.”

Efforts to include pronouns on CougarCards are ongoing, and Jeffries said he hopes to make that feature available across the system in the future.

Expanding visibility

With the myWSU and CougarCard initiatives underway, the committee is exploring other ways to increase pronoun use and visibility throughout the system. It is working on automating myWSU so that faculty are notified when a student changes their pronouns and exploring how to get myWSU pronoun information into other places such as financial and academic advising. 

“We’re hopeful that in the future, we can see pronouns being used in other systems WSU uses,” Jeffries said. “We’re really looking at how this can become a seamless process.”

All students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to add their pronouns to their myWSU profile. To add your pronouns, go to Profile, then Biographic. The list of pronouns will appear next to your name. 

For more information on GIESORC and pronouns, visit the GIESORC website.

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