Gender pronoun selection now included in registration

Sara Platnick

Upon pre-registration for the Spring 2016 semester, in addition to common steps such as confirming their attendance and giving an emergency address, students for the first time ever could choose their preferred name and gender pronouns. These selections are visible to students’ professors and academic advisors and can be changed at any time on MyWhitman.

The change in registration to include the selection of preferred gender pronouns arose as the result of an ASWC resolution passed at the end of Spring 2015. The resolution called for a way to allow all students to select their gender pronouns during registration and to make it visible to professors and academic advisors.

Corinne Vandagriff ’15 worked at the forefront of the bill to encourage Whitman to adopt a formal policy that would allow students to select their own preferred gender pronouns regularly.

“As a gender studies major, there’s a lot I could say about the complex web that gender is, but really what’s important is that gender is complicated and can be extremely painful and oppressive for some; it’s important to me that institutions like Whitman (and the individuals that occupy Whitman) try to help hold that weight by having formal and easily accessible policies for name and/or pronoun changes,” said Vandagriff in an email interview. 

Vandagriff and current ASWC vice president, junior Arthur Shemitz, spoke to many students who had concerns that their legal names or genders, which are visible to their professors and others on MyWhitman, do not conform with their self-identities. These conversations encouraged ASWC to reach a resolution that could help address some of these issues.

“[Using incorrect pronouns or a different name] can mis-gender students or not indicate a respect for the identity that they identify as, but it can also out students who are not necessarily comfortable with their peers…so we saw the need for a system that could remedy that, and we decided that the best way to have that be accomplished would be a check-in system during pre-registration,” Shemitz said.   

Even though the selection of preferred pronouns was done to address issues for particular students, an important part of the change is the requirement that all students choose their preferred gender pronouns and that the preferred pronouns can be changed on MyWhitman.

Their preferred gender pronouns and that the preferred pronouns can be changed on MyWhitman.

“[The change] sets the norm that everyone is asked about their name and pronouns. Because what happens is that we understand that it’s important to know people’s gender pronouns, but most people just assume them except for people who seem borderline, and what we need to do is check in with everyone about their preferred gender pronouns and have people be comfortable with someone asking them that,” said Shemitz.

Shemitz worked closely as an ASWC liaison during the Fall 2015 semester with Enterprise technology, the technology group who runs MyWhitman and Cleo, to implement the change.

“What really drove this was the ASWC resolution that was passed last spring, and so we began initial talks right at the end of the term … and then once the students got back we met more frequently to talk about how they want to develop [the resolution], because there was not a lot of specificity about how it should actually surface once it developed,” said Mike Osterman, a technology coordinator for Enterprise Technologies.

Enterprise, Shemitz, and some members of the faculty had some discussion initially about who could view student selections of preferred gender pronouns, and it was eventually decided that for the time being only professors who taught a class that the student is enrolled in and the student’s academic advisor could view the preference.

Assistant Professor of Politics Susanne Beechey has hosted a Center for Teaching and Learning session about the importance of using gender-inclusive language in the classroom, and encourages faculty to see gender-inclusive language as a means to create a more inclusive and comfortable classroom environment.

“In some ways [the change to have students select their preferred pronouns] is a very small change, but it can have a really big and important effect for some people. And that’s what I think is so great about it. It’s not a huge shift, it’s just a little change on the margin that will have a big effect for some, and I think that’s great,” said Beechey.

Editors note: an earlier version of this article misspelled Assistant Professor of Politics Susanne Beechey’s name.