How to use pronouns effectively

Four tips for getting it right, plus a new campus platform supporting pronoun preferences.

By Pamela Gorsuch on February 19, 2024

pronoun pin
Photo by Alexander Wright | Towson University

Studies show that affirming a person’s pronouns (and thus their identity) can positively impact their well-being. Accurate pronoun use is essential for modern communication, but like any new habit, it can take practice to implement. Below, Brian Jara, director of inclusive excellence education and support in the Office of Inclusion & Institutional Equity (OIIE), and Allyson DeMaagd, sexuality and gender diversity coordinator in the Center for Student Diversity (CSD), share tips for getting it right, how to recover if you get it wrong and information on the new campus platform supporting pronoun preferences. 

Know the stakes

“The point of pronouns isn’t just about pronouns—it’s about recognizing someone’s identity,” DeMaagd says. During her decade-long career in higher education, she’s seen firsthand the validation and dignity that comes from being fully seen and accepted. That’s especially meaningful for those in the transgender and nonbinary communities who face an increased risk of violence and suicide. 

“Using correct pronouns creates space for experiences and identities outside of the gender binary,” she says. “It’s a very low-stakes way to say, ‘I care that you feel included.’” 

Take advantage of early opportunities

Sharing pronouns up front can prevent confusion and awkwardness later. Jara advises giving students and colleagues the option to share pronouns in introductions, especially when convening new classes or meetings. Giving your name, title/major and pronouns when meeting new people offers an opportunity for others to reciprocate. It’s a small yet impactful step toward normalizing pronoun use. 

“Weaving [an invitation to share one’s] pronouns into everyday situations prevents people from feeling singled out,” he says. “Keeping it optional respects everyone’s comfort level with sharing information.” 

Share preferences via platforms 

As campus technical integrations evolve, pronoun preferences are becoming available on new platforms. The latest is Blackboard, added for the beginning of the spring term. To set pronouns there and on other available campus platforms, students, faculty and staff should first submit the Chosen/Preferred Name, Pronoun & Gender Identity Request Form. Once complete, your pronouns will automatically be updated on TU communications, PeopleSoft and Blackboard, and you’ll have the option to set pronouns when you join Zoom sessions. Those who’ve previously submitted the form will automatically see their pronouns reflected in Blackboard. Pronouns can also be added to email signatures by using TU’s email signature generator.

Give yourself (and others) grace

Since incorporating pronouns involves adapting language habits, it’s common to have missteps. Don’t let them discourage you. 

“Acknowledge it, apologize and move on,” DeMaagd says, adding that it can be helpful to practice what you might say when such a situation occurs. The Gender Identity Resources page offers a few examples, which can be as simple as “Sorry, I meant to say (pronoun).” It also provides language to use when speaking up on behalf of others.

Ultimately, focus on progress over perfection, and give yourself and others grace along the way. “As a society, we’re shedding centuries of using binary terms,” she says. “We can all support each other as we put in the work to develop better habits and use more inclusive language.”

Keep learning

Allyship & Advocacy Training 

Request dedicated training on resources, tools and strategies for supporting diverse communities at TU. Sessions are also available on supporting LGBTQ+ students on campus; sign up through the Center for Student Diversity. Additional resources, practice opportunities and a list of commonly-used pronouns are available on the Gender Identity Resources page.