Panel stresses importance of honoring personal pronouns

Pronouns video

Amber Mateer (she/her pronouns), a graduate assistant with Pacific Recreation, succinctly sums up the importance of personal pronouns and their proper usage. In a video, she states three reasons:

·      “Pronouns are people’s identities. They are not preferred, they are simply pronouns.”

·      “Gender expression and gender identity are not the same thing. Therefore, asking for and respecting people’s pronouns helps to solidify that you cannot assume somebody’s gender based on the way they look.”

·      “Using pronouns helps to create inclusive and safer environments, specifically for our trans and non-binary folk.”

Those thoughts were expanded upon Oct. 20, when the Gender Studies Program along with the Department of Modern Languages and Literature and Intercultural Student Success held “A Dialogue on Gender, Politics and Pronouns Across Languages.”

The event coincided with International Pronouns Day, which seeks to make respecting, sharing and education about personal pronouns commonplace.

The panel was moderated by Professor Jennifer Helgren (she/her), chair of the History Department and director of the Gender Studies Program.

“We recognize the need to continue this celebration (International Pronouns Day) and to expand it as well,” Helgren said.

The panelists were Colleen Smith (she/her), associate director of Intercultural Student Success, Cosana Eram (she/her), associate professor of French; and Traci Roberts-Camps (she/her) professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature.

“I am super passionate about pronouns, which is an interesting thing to be passionate about,” Smith said. “They are tiny, little words, but they carry a lot of impact. I hope this space will make us realize how we can affirm identities through these tiny words.”

Smith defined pronouns as the way that you refer to someone in the third person in place of their name.

“The trouble with pronouns is we make a lot of assumption in their use. Take the English language. The most common pronouns are she/her, he/him and sometimes the singular they,” Smith said. “Pronouns can be very limiting as they fall into the binary, plus we end up making assumptions on which pronouns people use in an instant based on the way that they look, their name, their voice, etc.”

Smith said it is important to honor selected pronouns and help to normalize their usage, and added that it helps to “open up the floor, but never force.”

Mateer, in her video, suggested five strategies for commonplace usage of pronouns: name tags, email signatures, virtual screen names, social media biographies and whenever you introduce yourself, in person or virtually.

Professors Eram and Roberts-Camps shared issues involved with pronoun usage in languages other than English.

“Generalizations are problematic right now,” Eram said. “We have so many nuances in languages today. People can feel a bit trapped in the complexities of the French language when it comes to gender.”

Roberts-Camps sees unique issues with Spanish and emphasizes “language is living” and frequently changing.

“In class, what we are learning is, for better or worse, termed normative Spanish,” Roberts-Camps said. “But students come to me with very legitimate Spanish from different countries, from different family contexts. There are so many other versions that are just as legitimate.”

Roberts-Camps said a petition to include more inclusive language was denied by the Real Academia Española, the organization that oversees issues involving the Spanish language.

The panelists agreed that inclusive language issues—specifically pronouns—are ongoing and take a steadfast and determined approach.

“The Pride Resource Center is available and we would love to help support your pronoun usage and understanding,” Smith said. “Most importantly, to our trans, non-binary and non-conforming students, please let us be a resource for you.”