While Vassar prides itself on being a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community, there are still some areas where it falls short. The Vassar Pronouns Project hopes to bring these shortcomings to the attention of the community and introduce ideas to help everyone feel safe.
The Pronouns Project began about mid-way through the fall semester, and was initiated by both Feminist Alliance and Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC).
Kayla Neumeyer ’15, was part of this founding group. In an emailed statement she wrote, “This project is about a bunch of different things, though one of the primary ones is safety—this school is often extremely unsafe for trans students, and [addressing] constant misgendering in classrooms is a small step in making a slightly more safe learning environment.”
Neumeyer was part of a group of organizers who come from both Feminist Alliance and QCVC. She wrote, “We meet together to collaboratively work on implementing a plan to hopefully reach our goal of having pronouns respected, particularly in classroom spaces.”
Kiran Kawolics ’15 noted that while it is always important to be conscious of people’s preferred pronouns, it is especially important at the start of a new semester.
“I think that asking people to state their preferred pronouns at the beginning of the semester is an incredibly easy and necessary way to increase students’ comfort in the classroom and make sure that everyone feels more respected and welcomed in this environment,” she explained in a written emailed statement.
For these reasons, the decision to initiate the Pronouns Project was an easy one for Neumeyer. Feminist Alliance and QCVC had two joint general body meetings where they discussed varying intersections of feminism and queerness.
“When brainstorming possible projects that we might work on this year, we honed in on the fact that professors almost never ask for people’s pronouns (and sometimes not even names) in class, and that this was a small thing that caused a lot of discomfort for many people on this campus, and something that we felt we could create change around,” wrote Neumeyer.
On their Facebook page, the project’s leaders state that they would hope this initiative takes root quickly. “Pronouns are important and misgendering people is bad,” it reads simply. “This project aims to educate Vassar about pronouns and how they should be and shouldn’t be used.”
Neumeyer ellaborated, “It also allows people who are not out to professors to signal to classmates that they prefer a certain set of pronouns in the classroom, if that’s their choice.”
Kawolics added that being proactive about pronouns fits into a larger dialogue about identity on campus. She stated, “It is important to strive towards a culture at Vassar in which people are aware that gender identity and expression manifest themselves in an infinite number of ways, and that it is therefore crucial to not make assumptions about what pronouns people use.”
Kawolics continued, noting that it is also crucial to hold oneself accountable for people’s preferred pronouns even when they are not present. “Taking care to ask someone what their pronouns are and then use their stated pronouns all the time—not just when the person is present—is such an easy thing to do and should be something that is encouraged and expected not only on this campus, but in other communities as well,” she wrote. “There is literally no reason to not check in with people about their pro- nouns, and this should be the standard in all classrooms and other spaces.”
Neumeyer suggested that creating a culture of awareness surrounding gender identity would call cisgendered students to confront their privilege. “I think this project is also important in terms of getting cis students to start stepping up, and not putting all of the weight on trans students to enact change.” She added, “Hopefully, this has implications for what (critical) allyship can look like at this school.”
VP of Academics Logan Hill ’16 emphasized that misgendering in the classroom setting is not only hurtful, but also impacts a student’s ability to focus on their education. “When a student is misgendered in a classroom setting, that student is then less able to focus on their work in and out of class, instead having to put energy into dealing with the emotional repercussions of having their identities invalidated,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
In his capacity as VP of Academics, Hill has been working on initiatives to make asking for students’ pronouns a standard practice among professors. Throughout the year, he has been collaborate with faculty, the Academics committee and the Committee on Curricular Policy (CCP) to further this goal.
He explained, “Whether that collaboration comes in the shape of a formal section in the Faculty Handbook encouraging professors to begin each semester asking students their preferred pronouns or just raising the community’s awareness of the issue, I hope I and Academics can accomplish some important work on this front, one that, as a non-binary individual, resonates with me personally.”