One of the first articles I wrote for The Daily Nebraskan was a plea to professors to ask students their pronouns on the first day of class to promote a more inclusive campus culture. This became less relevant during my stint with online classes, given the ease of putting pronouns in Zoom display names. Sure, it was a little awkward to be the only person in a whole class with my pronouns next to my name, but it was usually a pretty good way to ensure that my professors and classmates didn’t misgender me.
As I began preparing to transition back to in-person learning this fall, I was pleased to see a little notification at the top of my Canvas dashboard letting me know how to update my name, gender identity and pronouns.
I immediately sent this screenshot to all my queer friends to let them know, and they all seemed excited about the news. I proceeded to follow the link to change my gender identity and pronouns, and that was where I ran into some head-scratchers.
While this is definitely the right step forward, and a great move by the university, there are still some aspects that could be improved. I’m going to outline some things I hope the university takes into consideration when they revisit this programming.
For one thing, the options are all in a drop-down menu form, which is automatically worrisome when it comes to queer identities, as every queer person experiences their identity differently. I understand that the specific coding of the website may require a drop-down menu as opposed to students typing in their preferred pronouns or gender identity, but within those drop-down menus, there are still elements that could be fixed.
One of the most pressing issues, to me, is the fact that the options for “man” and “woman” are divided into “cisgender” or “transgender.” There is no option for just “man” or “woman,” which could be an issue if a transgender student did not want to be outed as transgender but wanted to update their gender identity to their correct gender.
The simple answer to a transgender student’s worry that they might be outed would be to not choose any of these options as their gender identity, which does serve that purpose. But if the university is dedicated enough to inclusivity to have nine different gender identity options, they might want to consider how arbitrarily creating a difference between cisgender and transgender students may be perceived.
Another aspect that troubled me was the drop-down options for pronoun choice. I do appreciate the inclusion of increasingly common “she/they” and “he/they” pronoun sets, as well as two sets of neopronouns. However, given the nature of the drop-down menu, this seems like the university is giving more validity to certain pronoun sets. What makes “ze/zir/zirs” pronouns any more valid than “xe/xem/xir” ones? Finally, although there are options for “ask me my pronouns” and “no pronouns,” there is no option for “all pronouns.” Again, as long as the university is providing a variety of pronouns, there is no reason to not include “all pronouns.”
I don’t want to be too harsh on the university. I truly appreciate this new inclusive policy and I think it’s a great step forward in the process of unlearning our rigid perceptions of the gender binary. That being said, societal change is long and difficult, and I hope the university takes these concerns into consideration as they continue to evolve and create resources which help students embrace and celebrate their identities.
Sydney Miller is a senior psychology major. Reach them at email@example.com.