A new addition to syllabi across campus might make it easier for transgender and nonbinary students to communicate their gender identity with their professor.
The Faculty Innovation Center, a center that seeks to improve the learning environment on campus, added a recommended section on pronoun use to their widely used syllabus template last spring. The new section says faculty members will honor any student’s request to be addressed by an alternate name or gender pronoun, if they advise them of their preference.
“Research shows that educational contexts tend to mirror inequities and can foster those,” said Adria Battaglia, FIC’s curriculum and instructional designer. “We’re trying to figure out ways to reduce those barriers so that students can cognitively achieve what they’re meant to achieve in the classroom, connect with their community and feel a part of UT.”
Battaglia said although the section is not required, it creates a better learning environment for transgender and nonbinary students by signaling to them that a professor is willing to talk about issues related to gender.
“If there are students whose pronouns don’t match what someone expects them to be for cultural reasons, (the new syllabus) statement signals to them that they have a safe space to talk about that with their faculty member,” Battaglia said.
Dallon Freeman, a nonbinary linguistics junior, said while it does not largely impact their academic life, they usually felt uncomfortable addressing pronoun usage with their professors.
“Up to this point, none of my professors have ever openly discussed pronoun usage,” Freeman said. “There is an element of dread knowing that in any circumstance where I might come up in conversation — The idea that I would be misgendered in that context is troubling.”
Journalism senior lecturer Kris Wilson has already included the additional section to his syllabus for the semester.
Wilson said he saw the recommendation in a recent email from FIC about effective syllabi and included it because he saw gender identity as an important issue to his students he has neglected in the past.
“It was obviously important to students, and I felt like adding this to the syllabus just shows that I think it’s important too,” Wilson said. “I just feel like this is an area where I want to make sure I’m in step, that I catch up, that I can provide a space where people can feel more comfortable and as a group we could talk about this if it comes up.”
Freeman said this policy is a step in the right direction in helping transgender and nonbinary students feel more comfortable at UT.
“It’s anxiety-inducing to just be a trans or nonbinary person, and it can be anxiety-inducing to approach someone like a professor or a faculty member that you perceive as being higher up in the social hierarchy than you and address something like pronoun usage,” Freeman said. “So having something like an outlined syllabus policy, or even just a mention of it at all, I think that’s something that can bring a lot of comfort to the gender diverse population at UT.”