This post is part of a series – Supporting Students: A Guide for Faculty & Allies

Pronouns and Inclusive Language

(Portions of this section were originally published in a standalone article, Pronouns 101)

A pronoun is a word that may substitute for a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. When referring to people, using the correct pronouns shows respect for them and their gender identity, and helps create an inclusive environment. When conducting introductions, sharing your own pronouns can encourage others to do the same (e.g., “Hello, my name is Eric and my pronouns are he/him”). Pronouns can be shared in syllabi, email signatures, social media biographies, etc. Pronouns “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers’’ are associated with masculine and feminine gender identities. This may not reflect an individual’s gender identity, and “they, them, theirs” is often used as gender neutral pronouns.

Why do we no longer say “preferred pronouns”? It is now more appropriate to omit the term “preferred,” as preference implies an acceptable alternative. Pronouns are not a preference, as there is not an alternative to using them correctly. 

What does it mean to have multiple different pronouns? Sharing multiple pronouns means any of those pronouns are acceptable. They may be listed as one set, for example “he/they.” Generally, use the pronoun listed first most often.

What if someone uses pronouns I am not familiar with? Neopronouns are sets of pronouns which offer an alternative to existing options that may not align with someone’s gender identity. Some examples are “xe, xem, xyr” or “ey, em, eir.” These may take some getting used to, but using them correctly conveys respect.

Learn about LGBTQ+ terminology, and reflect on what terms are new to you. Terms and their definitions often change, and individuals who use certain gender and sexuality labels may define them differently. 

Some language that many people use daily is rooted in a binary understanding of gender—or that there are only two genders, male and female. Many people identify their gender outside of this binary, including identities such as nonbinary, genderqueer, or gender fluid. Using gender-inclusive language helps to create safe and affirming environment for all students.

Instead of…Say this
“People of both genders” or “both men and women”“People of all genders”
“Ladies and gentlemen”“Everyone,” “students,” “folks”
“He or she” or “his or her” to identify a hypothetical person“They” or “their”
Assuming the unknown gender of someone’s romantic partner with “girlfriend/boyfriend” or “husband/wife”“Partner,” “significant other,” or “spouse”


Microaggressions are everyday, subtle or indirect acts of discrimination that may be verbal or nonverbal. These acts may be intentional or unintentional, and they can have negative emotional and psychological consequences for members of minoritized groups. A recent study found that 64% of underrepresented CSD students reported experiencing microaggressions in their academic programs (Abdelaziz et al., 2021). 

Correcting Mistakes

Everyone will make mistakes, and it is important to address one’s mistakes with both compassion and criticality. If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns, quickly correct yourself and apologize, then continue the conversation: “Sorry—she was going to the library.” If a colleague or student makes a mistake with someone’s pronouns, it is often appropriate to gently and quickly correct them in the moment (e.g. “Jamie uses the pronoun ‘she’”) or model the correct pronouns in your response. If a student is misgendered by someone in the classroom, it may also be appropriate to approach them later to ask them how they would prefer for you to handle mistakes in the future. Some students may prefer that you correct mistakes in the moment, while others might not be comfortable with this attention and prefer that you simply continue modeling their correct pronouns.

When addressing any mistakes that may have hurt someone, be genuine without dismissing the importance of your mistake. It is important to apologize but avoid “over-apologizing,” as this may draw uncomfortable attention to someone. Thank the person for informing you of the mistake. You may consider telling them that you are open to more feedback about how you can improve the inclusivity of your classroom, clinic, or workplace.

Learning into Practice

  • Reflect on your personal biases and how your own identities and history shape your understanding of the world. Ask yourself how your unconscious attitudes can impact your work with people of different identities and backgrounds.
  • Share your pronouns in your email signature and when you introduce yourself to a client or classroom.
  • Provide opportunities for students or clients to share their pronouns (classroom name tags, survey, clinic intake form, in conversation). Do not assume someone’s pronouns based on their physical appearance.
  • Use someone’s correct pronouns. Correct your colleagues if they make a mistake.
  • If you are committed to continued learning, support, and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, identify yourself as a “safe space” with a sign in your office or clinic.
  • Address harmful language from colleagues. Be an advocate and provide an opportunity for others to learn. 
  • Reflect on your clinic materials: Do they represent a diverse range of body types, races and ethnicities, gender presentations, and disabilities?
  • Provide training for your academic department or workplace.
  • Seek out further learning about LGBTQ+ history and culture. The LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive is a great tool for finding resources.


Abdelaziz, M. M., Matthews, J. J., Campos, I., Kasambira Fannin, D., Rivera Perez, J. F., Wilhite, M., & Williams, R. M. (2021). Student stories: Microaggressions in communication sciences and disorders. American journal of speech-language pathology, 30(5), 1990-2002.

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