Having been raised in Latvia, Sintija (21) confesses that this may not have been the most nurturing environment to explore their gender identity. “I had a lot of internalized misogyny and was really vocal about reinforcing the gender binary”.
After commencing their bachelor studies in communication and media at EUR, Sintija surrounded themselves for the first time with ‘more open and progressive people’. “I talked a lot with them and asked questions about their understanding of gender. I started to read more and do more research, which I could have access to thanks to Erasmus – academic papers are expensive, you know?”
Sintija attributes Erasmus University and its open-minded community to the discovery of their non-binary identity, nevertheless, they acknowledge that they were never asked once for their pronouns in a tutorial or lecture room, and that the existence of the ESSHC guide for gender-inclusive language was unknown to them.
Arts and culture student Kim (22) experienced the same lack of pronoun query in the faculty. “It takes such little effort to ask someone what their pronouns are, and in all my years studying here, no one has done that”, they explain. Kim goes by any pronoun, so such situation has been a bit more bearable for them but can understand how ‘this can be very suffocating for some people’.
Caro (21) is a non-binary student at a different faculty, Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, and relates greatly to such feeling. “For a while, before I could have my deadname changed in the system, I would send an email before the first class to my tutors explaining ‘hey, I’m Caro, this is my name, these are my pronouns…’ I would have to do that for every new class.”
The first time a tutorial teacher asked for their pronouns and used them correctly ‘was really special, especially because it didn’t happen again for a while’, Caro explains. “That really made such a difference to me. It gave a sense of how I could fit in in academia. It’s not that you see many non-binary people, well anywhere, but representation of non-binary academics in particular is scarce. Having my pronouns asked and used by this teacher really solidified that I do belong here, that I do belong in higher education.”
“I think us professors need to be very conscious about the role we have in creating a safe space in the classroom”, Ana Uribe Sandoval, lecturer and one of the writers of the ‘ESHCC school recommendations for a gender-inclusive use of language’ guide, explains. “When I say, ‘I use these pronouns’, I’m not forcing you or anybody to tell their pronouns, but I am opening a door for someone to tell me if they want to be called by a different pronoun. They know they can come up to me and that this conversation is valid, accepted, correct, that in this classroom you can do this.”
Chiara Modugno, lecturer at the Department of Media and Communication, confesses that she did not know about the toolkit, and neither did her immediate colleagues. Nevertheless, she has been using gender-inclusive language in her tutorial classes even before the guide was published. “It was always something that I did since the beginning of my teaching career. It’s pretty normal to me, maybe because I’m also a gender and diversity researcher.”
During the introduction rounds of every first class, Chiara makes sure to ask the name and pronouns of her students. “Many students have then reached out to me to say that they really appreciated that I had asked for their pronouns. That startled me a little because that meant that they weren’t always asked for them before. That made me think that maybe this wasn’t the experience everyone in every classroom was having.”
Master student at the Rotterdam School of Management, Lotte (23), encourages asking people in a room for their pronouns. Although this has never happened in her faculty, when these ‘pronoun rounds’ do take place in other settings, she often feels like these are only done when she is around. “Oh yeah, here’s the trans person, whose pronouns we already knew, let’s do a round!”, Lotte paraphrases.
“I think it’s important that we know how people prefer to be addressed, but people should also not be too performative about it. You do these things so that people feel welcome and not to make yourself feel good about how inclusive you are.”
'We want dialogue’
The toolkit drafted by ESHCC’s Faculty Council may still remain hermetic for many students and staff, but similar efforts from the Diversity and Inclusion Office (D&I) could expand the conversation to a university-wide level. Together with Erasmus Pride and Workplace Pride, the D&I Office has been working on a ‘Knowledge Platform for Inclusive Education’ which will include a guide on inclusive language, among other toolkits.
Programme Manager Gwen de Bruin aims to make the website public before the end of this calendar year. “It’s not only about knowing, but also about creating an atmosphere where talking about the importance of talking about pronouns is part of the conversations in a classroom. We want dialogue.”
Ana Uribe agrees. “Sometimes the most important role we have as Faculty Council members, and members of this community, is to talk about problems. You won’t be able to solve them immediately, but if you mention them, they become a topic. ‘Everything that’s seen cannot be unseen’. If you put a topic on the table, people have to discuss it.”