Stanford Introduces A New System To Respect Students’ Chosen Gender Pronouns

For all the university’s prestige, Stanford’s name has been marred by a serious sexual assault scandal over the past year. The school’s recent liquor ban, an approach to addressing sexual assault with victim-blaming undertones, generated no shortage of criticism. But despite these noted shortcomings, the university earned the praise of many activists for brilliantly handling another critical campus gender issue when Stanford announced its new system for student gender pronouns.

Developed by Stanford graduate students with the original purpose of ensuring the proper pronunciation of students’ names, NameCoach, a program enabling students to record their names and pronouns for faculty, quickly came to serve a very important double purpose. Information submitted by students can be reviewed prior to students even arriving on campus, which will hopefully subdue transgender or gender-nonconforming students’ understandable anxiety about the first day of school.

To University Registrar Tom Black, this added mechanism of NameCoach reflects the university’s commitment to encouraging “a culture of respect on campus.” Black said on the university’s website, “One of the best ways to convey respect to someone is to get their name right — and to get their pronouns right, too.”

Dereca Blackmon, associate dean and director of the Diversity and First Generation Student Office, thinks NameCoach is so important because it addresses stress that emerges among students when their names are mispronounced or when the wrong pronoun is used, which usually requires them to explain to and correct professors and university faculty.

“Our gender non-conforming students have come to expect that our community will make an effort to ask for the correct pronouns before assuming their gender,” Blackmon said on Stanford’s website. “Yet many members of our community still feel unsure how to approach the subject of gender pronouns. This service makes it easier for students’ identities and cultures to be respected.”

Research by the university has indicated that high levels of stress can dramatically affect students’ academic performances, so the change should have multiple positive effects on transgender or gender-nonconforming students’ lives.

Also working toward making its campus a more tolerant place is the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which, on the LGBT resource center of its website, makes the excellent point of how simply “not [having] to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender” is a “privilege” that many gender-nonconforming students don’t have. The university also notes the oppressive nature of disrespecting others’ gender identities and abusing their pronouns.

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Other higher education organizations, such as the Common Application and Universal College Application recently added fields allowing the expression of students’ gender identities, as opposed to just their biological sex.

Meanwhile, despite a federal judge blocking the enforcement of a discriminatory, anti-trans bathroom policy at the University of North Carolina, legislation such as North Carolina’s notorious House Bill 2 remain at large. As a result, transgender individuals and transgender students are demonized and misleadingly cast as sexual predators.

The reality, of course, is that there exist no recorded incidents of transgender individuals harassing people in restrooms, but no shortage of recorded incidents in which they faced harassment trying to use public restrooms themselves. Frankly, one only has to look at statistics of campus sexual assault to note that when it comes to sexual violence transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals are usually not the perpetrators — the perpetrators are often cisgender men.

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go for the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. But, at least on some college campuses, we might just be heading in the right direction.