By Breegan Petruska
Gender Pronouns – words that are used to refer to others without using their names.
In the English language, the most commonly used pronouns are she/her/hers and he/him/his. In today’s society, they/them pronouns are used much more frequently than in the past. They/them pronouns can be used as gender-neutral, gender fluid or in a number of different ways.
The Collegiate spoke with some members of StandOut! at Grand Rapids Community College to discuss the importance of respecting individuals’ gender pronouns, as well as Jonathan Wheeler (he/him), the Theater Manager at Spectrum Theatre on GRCC’s campus. In the fall, he will step into the role of the adviser of StandOut!.
“I don’t know if the school is approaching pronouns specifically yet, but I know you are able to list your preferred name,” Wheeler said. “So some students may have a different name that they do prefer when they apply at GRCC, so that’s information that you can give. I don’t know that they have an exact pronoun policy yet.”
If GRCC wants to be or is working towards being inclusive of all students, why is there not a current policy in place?
“There is no pronoun policy that I’m aware of, and I have been looking for it,” said Phoenix Noelle (they/them), a technical operations employee at GRCC. “Other than in the transgender policy, it does say that we will respect the pronouns of staff and students. There’s no official way, there’s no formal documented way. There’s no tab in the online center where you can select your pronouns, which is available for student records and the counseling office and instructors to look at.”
Victoria Powers (she/her), the program director of TRIO at GRCC, encourages students to reach out to faculty like department heads, the assistant provost, and the provost to have those conversations about things like students’ pronouns.
“They are open to a lot of conversations,” Powers said. “But until, it seems, until there is enough request, until there are enough students saying, ‘Hey, this is something that we want, or this is something that is important to us.’ If it continues to be more of a one-off kind of a thing, I don’t think we’re going to get any traction – at least from a student perspective and I think honestly the same from the faculty and staff perspective.”
For students and professors, it can be confusing to sort out how or when to ask a student’s pronouns. It could help to have a system in place where when they get their list of students’ names, that also contains their pronouns. This could help ensure that no student is being misgendered or feeling disrespected.
While there may not be a policy in place at this time, there are groups on GRCC’s campus that are safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community and those who support it.
“Students are always more than welcome to join the StandOut! organization,” Wheeler said. “You do not have to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to join. We welcome everyone with open arms to join. That’s even a more awesome way to educate yourself if you want to further educate yourself. Just join Standout!.”
For someone who is learning about pronouns or the LGBTQ+ community, what is a good way for them to learn and better understand and acquaint themselves with members of the community?
“If you are curious and you are meeting someone with different pronouns, in my experience the majority of us are very willing to talk about it,” said Ira Mucha (they/them/their/it/its/itself), a former GRCC student. “I will say, that is a lot of emotional labor to fall onto us, and I know that we do appreciate it if people just do even a basic Google search. Even if you were to just type in ‘non-binary,’ you know there’s Wikipedias and definitions that can come up and help people. Even something like neo-pronouns, a simple Google search will pull up a website that will have neo-pronouns that go back to the 11th century.”
With a world of information at our fingertips, it can be easy for people who have questions to take even five minutes to attempt to find answers.
“Do your homework,” Noelle said. “We are experts of our own experience, but we can’t speak for everybody. We certainly don’t want to be put in a position where we are responsible for how you see the rest of the community. Do your homework. Do your research.”
When it comes to asking someone their pronouns, keep it simple. In most situations, it can be as easy as introducing yourself and stating your own pronouns to open up that conversation. If you want to make sure that you have it correct, ask the other person as a sign of respect.
You might mess up. It can feel awkward or embarrassing. It happens. You can always apologize and fix it.
“If someone were to misgender you, how would you want them to respond?,” said Noelle. “If it’s a total stranger, you know, you’d probably just move on, who cares. If it’s your best friend, you’d probably expect an ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it, I apologize,’ and then you move on. I think moving on is a key point. Our experience isn’t going to be that different from anyone else’s. If you get misgendered, you feel a little awkward, but then you work through it like any other situational or social problem.”