Pronouns used for a teachable moment

On the first day of classes, David Corwin asks students to indicate their pronouns. 

It’s perfectly fine if a student is uncomfortable doing so. But Corwin (they/them), a faculty member and associate director of Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University, believes pronouns are important in their interactions with those they are teaching. That is why, after those first introductions Corwin discusses with their students how pronouns are “a vital piece of people’s identities.” 

“If you are called a correct pronoun on a regular basis, it’s very self-affirming,” said Corwin, who identifies as gender queer. “It also shows that the people around you care enough to refer to you as you want to be referred.” 

Sometimes students complain to Corwin about other faculty members who are not using proper pronouns in the classroom. Corwin said a discussion with the faculty member can remedy the situation. 

“Sometimes when students come to faculty [about the subject], faculty members may not always know who to handle the conversation,” Corwin said. “So if I can be an ally to a student and have a conversation more peer-to-peer, that can be helpful.” 

Corwin said Mason is “light years ahead of a lot of universities” when it comes to reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly with its Chosen Name and Pronoun Policy, creation of gender inclusive restrooms, and appropriate LGBTQ+ syllabus language. 

A next step is to continue the good work that is being done to focus on queer students of color, Corwin said. 

“We can do better for students who are at the intersection of being a person of color and queer identified to continue the good work that is being done to focus on queer students of color,” they said. “A lot of times those identities are bifurcated, and no student experiences the world with those identities as bifurcated.” 

“A lot of times, students feel either they are connected to the LGBTQ work on campus or the anti-racist work,” Corwin said. “It should be both.” 

Join Mason’s Lambda Alumni chapter for a Pride Trivia Night, June 30, 5-6:30 p.m., via Zoom. Register here.