Your name, your email, your phone number, your major, your classification, your blood type, your star sign, your Hogwarts House — sometimes it seems like all this information is available on UT’s online directory.
And yet, the University neglects to give students the basic right to identify their personal pronouns.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 allows UT to display certain student data online without the student’s permission. The University classifies many aspects of personal information as directory information, including but not limited to name, major and classification.
It doesn’t seem logical to me that a student’s information can be defined as directory information that’s available en masse, but not the pronouns they identify with. Many of us may take our personal pronouns for granted, but our transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming peers don’t have this choice. As it exists now, the directory doesn’t take the importance of pronouns into consideration, leaving these deeply personal and meaningful identifiers up to assumption and guesswork.
In order to foster an atmosphere of inclusivity for students whose pronouns may not fit into the socially “acceptable” binary, the UT directory should include an optional field for pronouns on every student’s profile.
Students have the option to update their email address and phone number online. They also have the option to restrict the information on the directory. This implies that students already possess at least some degree of control over their displayed information, and the process of adding personal pronouns doesn’t have to be any different. The added pronoun field can also be optional so that students who don’t feel comfortable sharing their pronouns won’t have to.
This small change would help in making UT more inclusive and supportive of its trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students.
“From talking to friends that are transgender or gender-nonconforming, (misgendering) does seem to be a prevalent issue,” Plan II and government sophomore Isaac James said. “It’s something that’s important to keep in mind, especially when we’re trying to foster an inclusive educational environment for all students regardless of gender identity.”
James, co-director of the UT Queer and Trans Student Alliance, believes that the addition of the pronoun field to the directory would succeed in normalizing the conversation about gender fluidity and make LGBTQ students feel more comfortable at UT. Curran Nault, artistic director and board president for OUTsider, a local nonprofit that celebrates LGBTQ media and art, agreed.
“If you’re a trans student, (a pronouns field) sets up from the beginning that ‘This is a place for me,’” Nault said.
Cisgendered students would benefit from this addition as well. Adding a pronoun field to the information already displayed would further allow students to establish authority over their personal information. If someone I had never met was using information from the directory to reach out to me, I’d like them to know my pronouns so I’m not just a name and a major with an email address. And as a journalist, I know I would be able to avoid confusion if I didn’t have to take my best guess at someone’s pronouns and instead had that information readily available.
“Including pronouns in the UT directory would be both a technological and a cultural shift the University would need to research, in part to determine if it would be a practical and impactful way to further achieve broad goals of creating a diverse and inclusive campus,” University spokesperson J.B. Bird wrote in an email.
While I understand that a change like this does require deliberation by the University, it’s disappointing that they consider the conversation around personal pronouns — an integral part of a person’s identity and the way they present themselves to the world — a “cultural shift.” It is the responsibility of the University to take all their students’ needs into consideration regardless of whether or not it achieves their “broad goals.”
Of course there are logistical questions that the University would have to evaluate before implementing this measure, but I think the benefits to LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students are self-explanatory and worth the effort. It’s a small step but adding a pronoun field to the directory would go a long way in ensuring that every Longhorn feels like they belong to the herd.
Dasgupta is a neuroscience sophomore from Frisco.