• Gender Identity and Pronouns

    All individuals want and need to be correctly identified. It is important that we as a community all use and model the use of correct gender and gender pronouns. Our aim is to create a safe and welcoming environment in which all can pursue their academic goals.

    The entire New School community is therefore asked to pay attention to each student's, faculty member's, or staff person's gender and pronoun use. It is important not to simply rely on one's perceptions and assumptions but to be proactive in asking a person about their gender and/or pronouns. Students, faculty, and staff are asked to respect everyone's right to self-determination in our community by making every effort to use the correct pronouns.

    Below is information based on materials written by Mateo Medina for Hampshire College.

  • What is a pronoun?

    A pronoun is a word that people use to refer either to themselves (such as me and you) or to someone or something (like she, it, them, and this). Gender pronouns (like ze, them, he, and she) are used specifically to refer to people.

    What is a gender pronoun?

    Gender pronouns are the pronouns that people choose to use for references to themselves. For example, if Xena's preferred pronouns are she, her, and hers, you could say, "Xena ate her food because she was hungry." Some gender pronouns are neutral (them, they, theirs), some are not (she, he), and some have been created as an alternative to or rejection of the gender binary. Everyone has the right to use the gender pronouns that match their personal identity. These pronouns may or may not match their gender expression (how the person dresses, behaves, or looks). 

    What are some commonly used gender pronouns?

    She, her, and hers and he, him, and his are the most commonly used pronouns. Some people call these "female" or "feminine" and "male" or "masculine" pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses she, her, and hers identifies as a female person and not everyone who uses he, him, and his identifies as a male person. There are also several gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:

    • They, them, theirs (Xena ate their food because they were hungry). These are fairly common gender-neutral pronouns. And yes, they can be used in the singular.
    • Ze, hir (Xena ate hir food because ze was hungry). Ze, pronounced "zee," can also be spelled zie or xe and replaces she, he, and they. Hir, pronounced "here," replaces her, him, his,them, and their.
    • Just my name, please! (Xena ate Xena's food because Xena was hungry). Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, substituting their names for pronouns instead.

    Never, ever refer to a person as "it" or "he-she" (unless they specifically ask you to). Both terms are offensive slurs used against trans and gender nonconforming individuals.

    Why is it important to respect people's gender pronouns?

    You can't always know what someone's gender pronouns are by looking at them. Asking about and correctly using someone's gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronouns, they may feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above). It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronouns someone is going to use for you on the basis of how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege yet fail to respect someone else's gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful but also oppressive.

    Why is it important for faculty members to students' correct gender pronouns?

    Faculty members are often in a position of power. Asking students what their pronouns are and consistently using them correctly can determine within the first few minutes if they will feel respected or not.

    How will faculty members know which gender pronouns to use for students in the classroom?

    Students may request that their faculty be notified each semester of their correct gender pronouns. Contact the Office of Intercultural Support at 212.229.8996 or ois@newschool.edu for more information and to make an official request. The Office of Intercultural Support will notify a student's instructors each semester of the first name they go by and the correct gender pronouns to be used in the classroom setting.

    What are best practices for faculty members with respect to gender pronouns in the classroom?

    Some students would be thrilled if their faculty would ask students to go around the room and share their name and gender pronouns; some students might cringe at this practice or, worse, feel exposed and unsafe. Some students will register their gender pronouns officially for the faculty member to be informed ahead of time. How do we respect these different expectations and experiences?

    • Some faculty members opt to pass out index cards asking for students' name, contact information, and gender pronouns.
    • Some faculty may use a statement like the following on their syllabus: "My name is [faculty name]. My gender pronouns are [gender pronouns]. Respect for identity is important to me and to The New School. Let me know your name and pronouns if you think that is important for our conversation."
    • Some faculty members skip using gender pronouns until they know students' gender pronouns. These faculty members may use students' name or gender-neutral pronouns.

    By using students' correct gender pronouns, faculty will be setting an example for students and staff: If they are consistent about using someone's pronouns, others will follow their example. Many students will be learning about gender pronouns for the first time, so this will be an important learning opportunity for them. Discussing and correctly using gender pronouns sets a tone of respect and allyship that trans and gender nonconforming students, faculty, and staff do not take for granted. It can truly make all of the difference, especially for incoming first-year students, who may feel particularly vulnerable, alone, and scared.

    How should I ask someone what their gender pronouns are?

    Try asking, "What are your preferred pronouns?" or "Which pronouns do you like to hear?" or "Can you remind me which pronouns you like for yourself?" Doing this may feel awkward at first, but it is not half as awkward as getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption. If you are asking as part of an introduction exercise and you want to quickly explain what a gender pronoun is, you can try saying something like this: "Tell us your name, where you come from, and your gender pronouns, if you feel comfortable doing so. Gender pronouns means the pronouns you like to be referred to with. For example, I'm Xena, I'm from Amazon Island, and I like to be referred to with she, her, and hers. So you could say, 'She went to her car,' if you were talking about me."

    What if I make a mistake?

    It's okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away like "Sorry, I meant she." If you recognize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on. It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right, but please don't! It is inappropriate and may make the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job. It is your job to remember people's gender pronouns.

    How can I take an active role?

    On campus, you may hear a student, faculty member, or staff member using the wrong pronoun for someone. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct them without further embarrassing the individual who has been misgendered. This means saying something like "Actually, Xena prefers the pronoun she," and then moving on. If other students or faculty are consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it! It is important for everyone to know that you are their ally.

    It may be appropriate to approach the person who has been misgendered and say something like "I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronoun earlier, and I know that that can be really hurtful. Would you be okay with me taking them aside and reminding them about your preferred pronouns? I want to make sure that this group is a safe space for you." Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the person. Your actions will be greatly appreciated.