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Pronouns and Pronunciations Survey Promotes Acceptance in Classrooms

By Elianna Spitzer

Section: News

January 22, 2016

A seven-question survey concerning the use of gender pronouns and pronunciation guides in the classroom circulated on Jan. 14. The survey questions included, “Do you support the addition of gender pronouns on class rosters and/or other documents (where possible)?” and “Do you support the addition of a pronunciation guide to your name on class rosters and/or other documents (where possible)?”

Lucy Wen ’18, Social Justice and Diversity Committee Chair, prefaced the survey in her email, “The promotion of the recognition and acceptance of transgender and genderqueer people has been a long-existing topic. Although many changes have already been made, there is still a long way to go to create a truly inclusive and safe environment for this group of people.”

The survey focused on increasing policies of inclusion towards members of the genderqueer, transgender and gender-variant communities. It also addressed name pronunciation issues for international students.

According to Wen, the survey had two main purposes: raising awareness and influencing change. It was the first step of many that the Social Justice and Diversity Committee hopes to take in order to positively impact elements of campus life.

The idea for the survey began when committee members met with Felix Tunador, head of the Gender and Sexuality Center. “We tried to reach out to campus organizations such as RCC and other LGBTQ groups and also the gender and sexuality center. Felix Tunador, the head of the gender and sexuality center… brought up this idea of updating the systems to have people’s preferred name and preferred pronouns. We started working together. He designed the whole survey and we helped spread [the word] out,” said Wen.

The percentage of the student body that responded to the survey is larger than expected. “It’s about 20 percent of the student body including the grad students. I mean, that’s great… normally the percentage of participants is only 15 percent,” said Wen.

For the Social Justice and Diversity Committee, this work is only beginning. Generating the survey and collecting its data is only the first step in the process. They hope to use the data to make changes to Sage and Latte. The committee intends to alter the systems in order to allow students to select a pronoun and use a pronunciation guide. “When the professor prints out a sheet of names it has class year, legal name, and preferred name. If we can add a pronoun and pronunciation guide…it won’t embarrass anyone,” said Wen.

Wen indicated that problems regarding pronouns and pronunciations can be seen on a large scale. The committee hopes that small changes to everyday systems will influence the way members of the community interact with each other. Wen felt that the issue of using correct pronouns and pronunciations does not start and end with professors. “It’s not the fault of the professors,” said Wen. “The school can certainly do better.”

John Unsworth, Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services, stated that LTS supports efforts to increase acceptance and recognition of the LGBTQ community on campus. “At the encouragement of LTS librarians who are active in the LGBTQ community here, and in collaboration with the newly formed office of LGBTQ affairs, we proactively raised this issue in the social justice forum that LTS co-sponsors with the chaplaincy, beginning last academic year,” wrote Unsworth in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

Unsworth wrote that he was not aware of the survey. However, he was interested in its response. “We have involved students in the discussion from the outset, and I would be happy to learn about the results of the survey, and I hope it can help us move this issue forward,” wrote Unsworth.

The technical implementation of gender pronouns and pronunciation guides on Sage and Latte would not be difficult for LTS and their affiliates. The difficulty lies in ensuring that it will make a larger impact. “The decision to implement these changes involves more administrative offices than LTS, and it is a policy question more than it is a technical challenge. It is also a training issue: just because our systems carry this information will not guarantee that those who call the roll in a classroom, or at practice or elsewhere, will understand the importance of using that information,” wrote Unsworth in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

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