How to make your classmates and teachers feel welcome during online classes
This school year is unprecedented in many ways. The cancellation of in-person classes and fall and winter school sport seasons will make it more difficult to build a school community where students feel like they belong. In order to make sure that everyone feels welcome during our online classes, let's review what pronouns are and how we can use them to show respect to one another.
A Rundown of Pronouns
Pronouns are the words we use to refer to someone when we don't use their name. Take a moment to ask yourself if you are someone who has never thought about their pronouns before. Those of us who have this privilege also have a responsibility to ensure that we are creating a space in our classrooms where everyone can use their preferred pronouns.
You can't always assume people's pronouns by looking at them, so it is a good practice to introduce yourself with your pronouns. For those of us who are cisgender (identify with the gender assigned to us at birth), making a habit of introducing our pronouns helps to normalize them as something that we should talk about so that everyone feels safe. For example, to introduce myself, I would say, "My name is Myles and I use he/him pronouns," before I ask what someone else's pronouns are.
Max Pauls, a sophomore at Blair who uses he/him and they/them pronouns, said that in their experience, pronouns have been a taboo subject at school. "It's always been awkward. If it's a room full of cisgendered kids, you wouldn't expect them to introduce their pronouns," Pauls says. While they acknowledged that MCPS has taken some actions to normalize pronouns, it is still a far cry from ensuring that all students feel fully accepted by their teachers and peers.
Pauls also emphasized that small adjustments in the behavior of cisgender students can go a long way. "With the incorrect use of pronouns, it can be extremely uncomfortable," Pauls says. Using the correct pronouns to address someone is a way to be an ally to trans and gender non-conforming students. It can be difficult to be the only gender diverse student in the room, but knowing that your peers will be there for support makes all the difference.
The incorrect use of pronouns is known as misgendering, and it can make someone feel that their identity is invalid and that they are not accepted for who they are. Misgendering someone doesn't make you a terrible person, but if you make a mistake please acknowledge it and move on without embarrassing the person. If you hear someone else use the wrong pronouns, gently correct them in the moment or in private later.
What if a student or teacher continuously misgenders another person during online class? This could be either intentional or unintentional. Regardless, there are ways to address this behavior in a way that is polite and does not embarrass either person. Some ways to politely correct them include a private message over Zoom, an email, or, if it seems appropriate, you could just tell them outright.
Being an Ally
Using the right pronouns when you refer to someone makes that person feel welcome, valid, and respected. It's an easy way to be an ally to those who identify as genderqueer, gender non-binary, or transgender. Of course, you can be cisgender and choose whatever pronouns you feel most comfortable with because at the end of the day we all just want our personal identities and choices to be respected. No one set of pronouns is more valid than another.
Whatever pronouns you choose to introduce yourself with, please be serious about it. Making jokes about pronouns doesn't make you cool or funny it just makes you look uneducated and disrespectful. Also, it's never a good idea to refer to someone using the words "he-she" or "it" because both of these terms are dehumanizing.
Here are some suggestions for how to introduce your pronouns:
Creating a habit of introducing your pronouns and respecting everyone else's pronouns will help to make our online classes more open and welcoming for all our teachers and students. It's a way to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, and it makes people feel respected. If you are still confused on what pronouns are and how to use them, take some time to educate yourself on them using the following resources.
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles [he/him], and I'm a Editor-in-Chief of SCO along with Tharindi Jayatilake. More »