I am traveling for a New Student Reception, so am taking the opportunity to pre-post some content while I am away. Today is about pronouns.

One of the things your students might see while in college is a line in people’s email signature that specifies the person’s preferred pronouns. People format these in different ways:

John Doe
[title, department, email, phone#, etc.]
pronouns:  he; him; his; himself


they/them/theirs (or she/her/hers)

My pronouns are they, them, theirs

The default position is to assume that a man would use he/him/his, and a woman would use she/her/hers. And that may not be the way a person would like to identify themselves. So these sig files help people understand how one would like to be referred to.

There was a time a couple of months ago where I referred to a person with a woman’s name in the blog as “they,” not “she,” and some of you asked me what that was about. That was because I had been told that the person in question used gender neutral pronouns, so I wanted to honor that.

Let me share with you a related (kindasorta) example. My given name is Elizabeth (and that is the name on all my official documents), but my parents always intended that I would be called Betsy in day-to-day life.  Every year in school when roll was called on the first day of classes, my teachers/professors asked for “Elizabeth,” and I had to correct them and tell them I prefer to go by Betsy. Betsy is what I feel comfortable with, and what makes me feel like myself.

Using people’s preferred pronouns are an extension of this concept – calling people what they want to be called. And we do it all the time – if I had an an advisee whose name was Andrew but he told me he preferred to be called Andy, I would call him Andy. If that same Andy told me he did not want to be referred to as “he” but preferred to be “they,” that is what I would call them. To me, it is just a way of making someone comfortable by using the language they prefer.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t still stumble a little over gender neutral pronouns (as an English major, I feel strange saying “they are” for a singular person, just because subject-verb agreement was beaten into my head for all my years of schooling). But I am learning 🙂

This might be new territory for your students, so wanted to bring it up to them before school starts.


– by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94

Categories: the daily deac


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