Gender Inclusive Practices for Your Teaching

Screen capture image of Wolverine Access interface for designating pronouns University of Michigan students identify across a full spectrum of gender identities and gender expressions.  As instructors, how can we cultivate gender-inclusive teaching and learning environments -- that is, environments that invite the full participation of students of all gender identities and respond to the harmful impact of gender stereotyping and misgendering on student learning?  

Instructors in any discipline can promote gender inclusivity in their courses by trying out some or all of the strategies below. This list is not exhaustive and represents just some of the many intentional practices you might incorporate into your curriculum, policies, classroom facilitation, and interactions with students. 

Add a Gender Inclusion statement to your Syllabus. Consider a syllabus statement that provides students with a definition of gender inclusivity and gives guidance on the use of pronouns and non-sexist language in the classroom. If possible, take the time to explain your reasons for incorporating gender-inclusive strategies into your teaching. Check out these sample statements from The Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Maryland’s LGBT Equity Center.

Give all students a clear ‘roadmap’ for gender-inclusive participation. Students need guidance on how to meet your expectations for gender inclusivity. Provide them with concrete examples of gender-inclusive ways to address each other and to participate in discussion, including guidance on using pronouns in the classroom and what do when mistakes are made. Consider including this guidance in your syllabus or as links on your course sites. Revisit this guidance with your students throughout the term, especially when introducing discussion-based and group activities.

Provide opportunities to share and use students’ pronouns and names -- while leaving room for students to make their own choices about when, if, and what they share. There are many ways to learn your students’ preferences for how they should be addressed and to cultivate an environment where everyone addresses each other respectfully. Consider framing these efforts as invitations as opposed to compulsory disclosures. It is important for the safety and well-being of students, especially those who experience gender-based marginalization, exclusion, and/or violence to make their own choices about whether to disclose information about themselves to others. Here are some gender inclusive practices that can help strike a balance between welcoming student disclosures and respecting students’ privacy:

  • Carefully review your course rosters for students’ name and pronoun designations. Do your best to honor students’ requests in all settings, including when speaking of the student outside of their presence.

  • Remind students that they can update their pronoun designations and preferred names on Wolverine Access. Students and instructors can use Wolverine Access to update their pronoun designations and set their preferred names on many university records, including class rosters and the MCommunity directory. Consider reminding your students of these useful tools and directing them to the instructions on Wolverine Access.

  • Have students share their own names. Instead of calling roll (and possibly using inaccurate or out-of-date information), allow all students to indicate the name they would like to be called, either aloud or in writing, in the first days of class. Beyond sharing nicknames or pronunciation, having students share their own names can be especially important for the comfort and safety of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students.  

  • Frame introductions and icebreakers as ways for students to share how they want to be addressed. Many people are now familiar with the practice of a ‘pronoun round,’ a classroom activity in which students are asked to introduce themselves and share their pronouns with the class. While some instructors ask students to indicate their personal pronouns aloud, others feel this may actually do more harm than good. Consider making pronouns an optional part of how students introduce themselves by inviting students to share how they want to be addressed instead of mandating that they state their pronouns. Remind students that they can decide what’s pertinent to share and that other helpful information can also be shared (e.g., pronunciation of names, or nicknames they do or don’t want to be called). 

  • Try student questionnaires to get to know your students. Especially in large courses, instructors might not be able to do verbal introductions in class. Or you might want to create more private channels for students to share how they want to be addressed. In such cases, consider creating a form that gives your students the opportunity to share this information. You (or the GSIs you teach with, if you’re a faculty member in a multi-section course) can offer to follow up with students individually to develop a student-centered plan for sharing information with the rest of the class -- if that’s what the student desires.

  • Try to learn your students’ names. These techniques from University of Nebraska-Lincoln can help you learn your students’ names in classes of any size.

Practice pronoun usage.  If your students use pronouns that are new or unfamiliar to you, the best thing to do is to practice these ways of speaking to become fluent. Draw on available resources such as this page from U-M's Spectrum Center or this guide from the Pensby Center at Bryn Mawr to learn about pronoun forms and respectful ways to inquire about someone’s pronouns.

Develop a student-centered plan for what to do if someone is misgendered or misidentified in your class. All transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming students may not be comfortable with the same plan. Some appreciate an instructor’s active intervention, while others may want to speak for themselves. Still others may prefer to avoid public corrections entirely. Consider a student-centered approach by inviting students to share their preferences with you in office hours or a student questionnaire (see above). Whatever the plan, communicate to your students that it applies to mistakes made by you too.  You may need a different approach if someone misgenders or misidentifies another person intentionally or repeatedly.

Examine your assumptions about gender. Especially if you haven’t deliberately considered such questions before, you might reflect upon how often you:

  • Expect that a person’s appearance will reflect their gender identity, sexuality, or pronoun use.

  • Make a judgment about what a person ‘should’ look like based on your ideas about gender.

  • Presume that knowing a person’s gender identity gives you insight into their experiences, individual competencies, and goals.

All of these are different types of gender-related assumptions. Self-awareness about your own assumptions can lay the groundwork for cultivating an inclusive classroom environment for your students. 

Examine your language, examples, and daily classroom practices for heteronormativity, sexism, and gender non-inclusivity. Some ways of referring to students—including “ladies and gentleman”— ignore the existence of non binary and gender-nonconforming students.  Similarly, instructors sometimes use images, examples, and models that only represent heterosexuality and traditional gender roles and expressions. UNC Chapel Hill’s guide to gender inclusive academic writing suggests gender inclusive alternatives that can inform how you select language and examples.

Teach the research and scholarship of people who experience gender and sex-based marginalization in your academic discipline. Introducing students to research and scholarship of transgender, nonbinary, queer and gender-nonconforming people (and women!) is an intervention that promotes both academic belonging and academic inquiry. Consider prioritizing work created by these scholars and researchers and, if possible, integrate their work throughout your course in meaningful, non-tokenizing ways.

Promote continued learning about gender, sex, and related dimensions of student experience -- even if that’s not the topic of your course. Many students and instructors come to U-M with a great deal of knowledge about gender diversity, while others have yet to learn about identities and expressions beyond the gender binary. You can help bridge that gap by visiting and sharing resources for learning more, including the Spectrum Center at U-M and the wealth of resources available through Vanderbilt’s teaching center

Listen to the voices of LGBTQ students and learn more about their experiences in higher ed when you need a reminder of the importance of committing to the work of gender inclusivity. Notice how students’ experiences with gender in the classroom are also shaped by their experiences of race, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and other dimensions of social identity.  Keep these differences in mind as you explore gender-inclusive practices for your classroom.

Faculty and GSIs play a critical role in fostering learning environments in which all U-M students are welcome as full human beings with rich and complex identities, including those related to gender. As always, CRLT staff are available to consult if you want to think through teaching questions related to these or other issues. And if you have a great classroom practice that promotes gender inclusivity, CRLT wants to hear about it! Contact us to share your ideas.

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