Mandatory pronouns

Joshua Pederson, professor at Boston University, makes a good point in today’s Boston Globe. Several years ago, Pederson began all his classes by having students introduce themselves by saying their names and pronouns. But, Pederson says, at the end of that first class:

“As my students began filing out of the classroom, one lagged behind, visibly distraught. They asked if they could talk to me about the way I ran introductions. They identified as non-binary and used they’them pronouns, but they felt exposed and vulnerable when I told them to share that. I din’t make them feel included; I made them feel unsafe.”

Now, Pederson gives his own pronouns, and invites but does not require students to share their pronouns. I think he’s on to something. In part, he’s addressing the power imbalance between teacher and student. And also, as he notes, “mandating that students share pronouns can force those who are unsure of their gender identity to pick one, even if they don’t feel ready.”

Those of us who spend time in religious organizations might think about following Perderson’s lead. In congregations, ministers, Sunday school teachers, committee chairs, youth leaders, etc. can share their own pronouns, but there’s no need to make it mandatory for everyone to share their pronouns. In other gatherings, denominational staff, volunteer denominational leaders, workshop leaders, etc. can do the same thing — share their own pronouns, but not make it mandatory for everyone to share pronouns.

In the past, I’ve asked various Unitarian Universalist groups to share pronouns. I won’t be doing that any more. I might share my own pronouns, but I’m not going to ask anyone else to share theirs. Invite, maybe; ask, nope.

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