Frequently Asked Questions: What Faculty and Other Teaching Staff Should Know About Pronouns in Use

What are Pronouns in Use in CourseWorks?

These are the pronouns that students use and want their faculty to use when referring to them. All students are welcome to register their pronouns.

This may be particularly useful for those students who do not identify as male or female or by the gendered pronouns found in many languages. For example, many gender nonbinary students use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir/hirs.

Students who have gender-neutral names may also find this option useful.

Why would someone register the pronouns they use? 

We introduced this program because it’s not always possible to tell which pronouns a person uses by their appearance or name. In particular, this may be true for students who are gender nonbinary or who have names that are gender neutral or from a language that is unfamiliar to faculty.

How can I know which pronoun a student uses?

We may not always be able to tell which pronouns a person uses by their appearance or name. This is why students can opt to indicate their pronouns in CourseWorks. The pronouns of students who choose to register them will appear in the NameCoach section of CourseWorks. If students record their name and register their pronouns, those pronouns will appear under the “Recorded Names” tab. If they do not record their name,  then their pronouns will appear under the “Unrecorded Names” tab. Registered pronouns will not appear in other areas, such as the class roster tool. 

We encourage all faculty and students to review the NameCoach section for their courses to learn the Pronouns in Use for students who have registered them.

What are the pronoun options that students can designate in CourseWorks?  

At Columbia, students can select from the following :

  • She/Her/Hers
  • He/Him/His
  • They/Them/Theirs
  • Ze/Hir/Hirs
  • Use my name as my pronoun

These are the most commonly used pronouns in our community. For more information on pronoun options, please see Pronouns in Our Community: A Guide from the Office of University Life.

What about honorifics?

Gender non-binary people often use Mx. (pronounced "miks") in lieu of Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. If you’re unsure what honorific a student prefers, it’s best to ask.

What if a student changes their pronouns midsemester?

Students who change their pronouns during the semester will be advised to alert their instructors and teaching assistants of the change.

Why should I refer to a student by the pronouns they use? 

Referring to students by the pronouns they use recognizes students for who they are; the same holds for using students’ preferred names. Most of us want to be called by our preferred name and recognized correctly as male, female or nonbinary by those who use pronouns or honorifics when they refer to us.

What if I make a mistake?

Mistakes happen, and it may take some time to get things right consistently. Acknowledge that you made a  mistake and ask about the student’s pronoun. A good guide to addressing such errors is to rely on what you would ordinarily do in a similar situation (e.g., if you mispronounced a student’s name).

If I keep forgetting to use a student’s pronouns in use, will this be considered discrimination?

Unintentional and occasional misuse of a pronoun is not discrimination. Still, it is important to keep the student’s experience in mind. As you would not repeatedly call a student by the wrong name, repeatedly forgetting to use the student’s pronouns in use can create challenges to learning. 

As part of Columbia’s equal opportunity policy, faculty and teaching assistants should be cognizant of pronouns in use and always try to use them.

What does this have to do with academics?

Transgender students who are accorded respect, including by having their designated pronoun used, benefit academically from being in a more inclusive environment. For more information about the value of inclusive classroom settings in students’ academic success, please see the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia.

How is this relevant to me as an instructor?

A key element to creating learning environments where transgender and gender nonbinary students thrive academically is the respectful use of pronouns. 

How can I incorporate pronouns in use into my inclusive teaching practices?

Use the pronouns and names students share with you. Students look to faculty and teaching assistants to set norms and expectations in the classroom, so when you affirm students’ names and pronouns, your actions serve as a model for other students.  

You should expect to have transgender students in your classroom. And be aware that some students automatically mention their pronouns when introducing themselves.

For additional information on building an inclusive classroom, students’ pronouns and consultations on inclusive teaching practices, please contact the Center for Teaching and Learning. You can also find additional resources on pronouns and inclusiveness in the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia.

As a faculty or staff member, am I able to register my pronouns in use? 

This is currently a program for students. We will update faculty and staff when this option becomes available for them.