Pronouns are Starting to Pop Up Everywhere

You may see them listed in student or colleague email signatures. You’ll often find them in social media bios. And, in some cases, students and coworkers may be sharing their pronouns when introducing themselves in person, online or on the phone.

Expressing pronouns is one way our college community can help support transgender and nonbinary students, educators and staff. It shows respect for a person’s identity and creates a more inclusive environment for all.

What can you do to create a space where students and coworkers feel safe and respected? Sociology faculty member Michelle Fether-Samtouni serves as advisor of Spectrum, OCC’s LGBTQIA+ student group. With deep professional insight, she offers the following suggestions:

Chosen Name
  • If you feel comfortable, use your pronouns in your email signature and add “What’s This?,” with a link to a pronoun research document. You also can add pronouns to your name that appears on Zoom or say your pronouns when you introduce yourself.
  • At the beginning of the semester, provide students a welcome card that asks them to indicate what name and pronouns you should use in class and if there are any circumstances when they do not want you to use pronouns. If students do not list a pronoun, call them by their name. Do not assume students’ pronouns by how they look.
  • In the class syllabus, state you will address students by their requested chosen name and gender pronoun.
  • Get in the habit of speaking with more gender-neutral terms. Avoid greetings like “Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen.” Instead, try “Welcome Students” or “Welcome Colleagues,” or “Welcome Everyone.”
  • Avoid using the term preferred pronoun. It’s not just a preference.

At first, it may feel a little odd saying “they/them” as a singular pronoun and using gender inclusive pronouns when speaking to students and colleagues. Practicing will help but if you do not feel comfortable using pronouns, call students or coworkers by their name. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with gender identity terms. Here are a few:

  • Cisgender – those who identify as the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Transgender – someone whose gender identity is different than the sex assigned at birth.
  • Nonbinary – people whose gender is not exclusively male or female.
  • Gender Identity - gender identity can be the same as, or different, from the gender a person is assigned at birth. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation, and everyone has both a gender identity and a sexual orientation.

Mistakes are bound to happen, but it’s important to not dwell on them.

“If you make a mistake, quickly correct yourself and move on,” Fether-Samtouni said. “Don’t get into a long apology. It draws more attention to the mistake and becomes more embarrassing to the person.”

When in doubt, use a person’s name. Students’ names on the class roster, however, may not be the name they want to be called. The College has been proactive in recognizing students, employees and others we interact with may use a first name other than their legal first name to identify themselves.

This is known as a chosen name. A study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health found mental health measurably improves when transgender young people are addressed by their chosen name throughout their lives.

You can learn more about chosen names is this OCC video.

For more resources on gender identity, check out The Trevor Project’s A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth.

About OCC

Offering nearly 100 degrees and certificates, OCC is Michigan’s largest multi-campus community college and No. 1 transfer institution in the state. The College provides academic, career training and enriching experiences, designed to empower students to reach their potential and enhance our community. More than 1 million students have enrolled in the College since it opened in 1965. A seven-person Board of Trustees governs OCC. Board members are elected on a non-partisan, at-large basis, serve as volunteers and are not paid. Mission statement: OCC is committed to empowering our students to succeed and advancing our community. Learn more at


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