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I am a TA in a US school and my professor told me to include my pronouns in the course outline. I personally would rather not for social and religious reasons.

Her argument was that I will confuse students because they do not know what my pronouns are. I find this argument not convincing since it is very obvious what my pronouns are from the way I look. We ended up having a heated discussion and she was very upset with my opinion. We had a great professional relationship, but once she found that I am on the opposite spectrum of her social/political opinions I can feel that the interactions between us are not "good" compared with our interactions before this argument. In the end, she wants to escalate this situation to a higher level.

Am I legally obligated to do so? If not, will this affect my academic career?

Responses to comments:

  • I tried to avoid my view about the gender issue but since people are asking me to put it here, I will do so: If a student asked me to call him/her/...etc by a specific pronoun, I will do so (actually, I use names to overcome this issue, it is easy to do). I am here to teach them the material X, and I will make sure they all get the same opportunity. This includes trans and non-binary people. Even though I am not convinced; I do not support non-binary genders and I do not think it is possible that a one can change his/her sexual identity.
  • If I start putting my pronoun on my cv, it will contradict my beliefs since it implicitly says that I am ok with that movement. I do respect people's choices but I do not like to be involved in it. I am talking about myself and what to do with my "pronoun".
  • Some of the answers suggested to find an alternative and I did: I suggested to use my name instead! For instance: poman's stuff, poman said, I deliver it to poman. That is how we keep mutual respect. I always do this. I call people by their names, and I will ask about their names if I don't know.
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    I purged a long discussion not relevant for the question. Please read the post notice on top of the question and this FAQ before posting another comment. Recall also to keep a respectful tone.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 9 at 21:22
  • 10
    Is it normal that a TA writes the course outline and not the prof? Jan 9 at 22:12
  • 7
    What would writing in the pronoun look like? Ms. Julie Bobset (she)? I'm curious about the actual demand here
    – Behacad
    Jan 10 at 4:00
  • 8
    Do you have to? - there are no rules about this that apply across institutions, so the answer depends on individual factors. Should you, though? - We can argue about this until the cows come home, so the answer would be opinion based. Voting to close.
    – henning
    Jan 10 at 17:24
  • 6
    @henning--reinstateMonica I didn't ask for an advise for if I should. My question is clear: will it affect my career path.
    – poman
    Jan 10 at 17:25

15 Answers 15

16

For whether it is legal, I refer to Bob Brown's answer and focus on the other part in my answer on whether it affects one's career. Note that I will use the term 'trans people' loosely, including anyone who might want/need to explicitly proclaim their preferred pronouns (e.g. indlcuding androgynous people, intersex people etc. who did not switch from one gender to another), for this answer.

Will picking a fight with your professor regarding explicitly announcing your pronoun have any impact on your career?

Very likely, yes. However, the effect is likely minimal or small.

Why? Your professor has already shown that they have a strong opinion in this matter or feel externally compelled to enforce this rule. If you pick a fight, no matter whether you "legally" win and can avoid following the rule, chances are the relationship with the professor is soured at least temporarily. The professor might be biased against you should you take further courses with them. They might not want to work with you in the future, either because they consider you a bad apple for not following the same political agenda or for just considering you difficult for making a fuss about such a non-issue (at least in their view) and this might restrict your options regarding bachelor or master theses or further TA work etc. with this professor. If it is quickly resolved with the professor (potentially via a quick answer from the higher body the issue will be escalated to), the effects will likely not go beyond direct decisions of your professor. The most likely short-term effect could be that you are fired from your TA role or at least not re-hired next term. Note that your professor might also be perfectly reasonable/tolerant or calm down after a short time of annoyance and this might have no effect at all. It all depends on their character and how further escalation is handled by all parties. But there is always risk and there are multiple parties involved that you have no control over.

However, generally speaking, the higher the issue is escalated, the broader the involvement of other professors and administrators gets and the larger public impact it has, the more likely are broader long-term effects. Or sudden effects after a long term, e.g. if at some point someone wants to publicly denounce you and digs through your past. (See the stories for people being sacked / getting their university admission rescinded due to racial slurs used in the past for example; note: using this just as an example that hot social topics can be dug up and used against people, not saying this is somehow the same as these cases in any way). While non-participation in a well-intended gesture should in my mind have no repercussions beyond a head-scratching of why anyone would not go along, this is currently a hot social topic and unfortunately discussed in a very partisan style, where "both sides" too often read little deviations from their preferred ideology with a "you're not fully with us, so you're against us" mindset. However, since you're a TA, this is also a workplace issue and as such turns this from only a gesture into an issue of following proper workplace procedure as outlined by your superior (see also below). Even if only your current professor holds this against you, the professors at your university might exchange opinions about students, especially when it comes to student jobs like TAs. They need to make getting a bachelor and master thesis possible, but they do not need to provide you TA or other job opportunities, so these are more likely to be affected by bad mouth to mouth press.

So, if you want to go through with resisting your professor's wishes, you should aim at a quick resolution that is as local as possible to minimize any negative impact. If you have another discussion with your professor, consider to bring up arguments from the answers here, like questioning whether it makes sense to force people to proclaim their pronoun taking into consideration the people they aim to support. E.g. as @Serge pointed out in a comment, some transgender people might themselves prefer not to disculse their preferred pronouns. I'd suggest to argue from their point of view, i.e. does the policy make sense in its strict form especially considering trans people and the goal to support them. There is also a certain likelihood your professor is themselves only following a guideline imposed on them. In that case arguing the guideline with them will help little. You either need to address the source or indeed find a way for an individual excemption. So first establish whether the professor acts on their own or whether this is a university thing. This will also establish how far up you could need to escalate.

With respect to the long-term effects, it would in principle be possible that the tides shift and in a more "conservative" future having a track record of resisting a pro-trans-people move could be a benefit in some way. I'd consider this unlikely, but to be complete this can be considered too.

In any case, all that I can offer (and I'd say anyone as I doubt there are statistics, but if there are, they'd be welcome) is a personal estimation of likelihood and reasoning of how people might react. Neither of us can foretell the future, it's a hot topic in general but also a small issue by itself. It can blow up or just disappear and you laugh about it in a year.

Perception

While I personally feel your professor's approach is at least a bit misguided (see below), whether the approach is perfectly correct is not that relevant, it will be perceived as a well-intended attempt to be inclusive of trans people. Currently this seems to be a strong agenda in the US especially in academics (outside perspective, happy if anyone can provide data to back this up or counter it). So any resistance to such a policy will more likely be seen as negative than positive. In addition, to most people resistance to provide basic obvious information when asked by your employer, i.e. fill out forms correctly, will seem ridiculous. It is you who reads more into this than the average person. While the average person might find providing pronouns odd, picking a fight with a superior at work about giving (in most people's eye) obvious information like your name when filling out a document will seem way more odd to them and thus they will rather consider you a weird trouble maker than side with you. And yes, as a TA you are (should unless you don't get payed) now in a work relationship with your professor, not in a student relationship, where you mostly can do whatever you want as long as you learn something. Now you partially represent the professor and the university and thus there is a stronger expectation that you do as told unless that's particularly unbearable (discriminatory, illegal etc.). So, even people who have no investment into the general topic will see picking a fight over a (to them) non-issue like providing an obvious gender explicitly rather than have people implicitly derive it as an indication of a trouble-maker. So without deeper discussion, people leaning towards a pro-trans agenda as well as people who are not involved at all will likely lean to have a negative impression about you. This may influence their reaction to you, willingness to support you or work with you.

Why do I think the professor's approach is misguided? The goals likely are 1) a symbolical gesture to show acceptance of trans people 2) to make it psychologically easy for anyone that doesn't have an 'obvious' gender identity to announce it and 3) to further the acceptance of trans people and specifically of announcing gender identity explicitly. At least my hope would be that those would be the goals (or similar ones) rather than implementing the rule simply because it seems en vogue. My personal problem with the approach taken is that it apparently tries to force compliance rather than convince everyone involved to participate voluntarily. Because

  • that partially invalidates 1) - it's way less of a meaningful gesture if people are forced, can still be seen as a gesture on the university level, but none that I would value much of an academic institution
  • it works against 3) - forcing people to do something in the name of an agenda or group typically breeds resentment against that agenda/group
  • and it insults the academic spirit of raising free thinkers that rather use argument to advance their position than power.

Pick your battles wisely

As always, you need to pick the battles you want to fight wisely. So you might want to decide to swallow this issue and pick another battle at another time. The following might help in accepting this.

Reconsider your own perception

Your main problem with accepting to state your preferred pronouns seems to be that you read that as supporting a trans-oriented view with arbitrary genders/genders up to be chosen rather than assigned at birth/tied to biological sex. Remember how I noted above that too many people treat this topic black and white? Try to not read adding your preferred pronouns as supporting everything any pro-trans movement proclaims as their goals. Otherwise how different is it for any pro-trans person to read your decision not to go along as a rejection of all they stand for - including the acceptance of them in society and academia (which you apparently DO support). If you look at it pragmatically, if you risk a fight now, you either loose it (nothing gained) or you win and you don't need to put your pronouns, but someone could find out about it, write an article about the bad conservatives that are so anti-trans they don't even want to put their pronouns on a form for some construed reason -> laughter and sympathy points for the trans community. You can also consider it a courtesy towards trans-people that you as a generous person does explicitly despite not agreeing with their ideology (or what you perceive as such, because there likely isn't one they all support). Like saying Merry Christmas to Christians although you're not yourself or the like. Talking French to the French tourists (although in your mind it might be their job to learn English when travelling to America) etc. What about the old formal address using Mr/Mrs? Would you consider selecting these as explicit support for a conservative model,too? Then most trans people do show support for that model every day when ordering stuff online, give them some support back ;) What if this will simply be the replacement for the old Mr/Mrs model? How is it different from extending that model to Mr/Mrs/Other/...? Whether you need to consider yourself a hypocrite or feel a conflict with your religious convictions in this case largely hinges on your perception of the underlying meaning of the action to explicitly state your pronouns. That is something you can easily change. Not just because it makes accepting to follow the professor's wishes more easy, but because it indeed is more or less arbitrary. Yes your view is kinda valid (but also confrontational by nature), so is the one I sketched here or some answers and comments assume. Be the better person in being non-confrontational and give people the cookie they want.

If you want to fight this battle, support them and make friends

If you do want to go ahead with a confrontation, my suggestion would be to not make that about you individually but what is best for your institution. Does your institution really want to force TAs to declare their gender identity? Would that be in the best interest of trans-people? Do you have some sort of student council where you could discuss this? If a student representation body would make a counter-proposal that explicitly asks to provide pronouns voluntarily rather than mandatorily, that would be a strong argument for your case. You could e.g. take a bet and offer a compromise in that you go ahead with the policy if it is supported by the students. Then organize a feedback evaluation where you make sure rejecting to force TAs to declare their pronouns is an option. For instance there could be options like "would you support a university policy that forced every TA to declare their pronouns to make it easier for transgender people to do so too? For or against this policy" and separately "would you support a policy that encouraged/allowed TAs to declare their pronouns to make it easier for transgender people to do so too? For or against this policy". Obviously a gamble, but perhaps serving the majority wishes would also make it easier for you to accept the policy should the feedback turn out that way. Note, I'd only go this way with either support from a student representation group and/or having it discussed with the professor(s) first. If you do your own evaluation behind their backs, that might win you the battle but escalate the issue and breed resentment on their end.

Another important aspect, stay polite and to the point. Don't get sidetracked or tempted to make any general statements that could then be read as discrimination against trans people (or any other group). Don't make things personal, don't attack your professor. Things are typically easier forgotten or set aside if they were politely handled and about an issue than if people feel personally attacked. At least on the local scale. When you consider escalating, first make sure you are up to that and will be able to control yourself and what you say. The higher you escalate the more likely that anything you say will be used against you by someone.

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    Thanks for this fair, non biased, and well-constructed answer.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 1:26
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    Regarding the point "the old formal address". There is no agenda, which I don't agree with, supporting them. For instance, Mrs and ms distinguish married and unmarried women (as far as I know), which is from the old day, you can tell if it is okay to ask a woman for a date/marriage. So it has a purpose. Now why are some people showing their pronoun? Simply, to support social agenda, which I don't agree with.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 1:36
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    @poman My point would be that a) the usage in an introduction, say in a text, using Mr. or Mrs. to distinguish male and female people is similar to announcing pronoun preference. With respect to the information they carry they could simply be exchanged (if we leave the female (pre-)marriage variants away); true pronouns may allow for a neutral ('they') more naturally than 'Other' as title. So if you're fine with that part, it's not a tough leap to accept pronoun declaration as a formally different way to do the same. Jan 11 at 1:43
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    @poman And b) when trans people enter Mr or Mrs or even Ms in online forms they do basically the same as you're asked to, namely supporting a model they don't agree with(some of them). so my point there is the "other side" often goes against their beliefs, so it's fair trade if you do it here too. Again, a lot of this is a question of how you view things to come to a decision of what is acceptable to you, as with social questions it's mostly personal interpretation and less fixed empirical observation or even fixed logical deduction. I'm basically trying to give different ways to look at it... Jan 11 at 1:46
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    3. Specifying my gender while I do have a picture online, I will be there in the first class showing my face and upper body, and they can shoot me an email without referencing any of my gender identity, all tells that enforcing me to put my title/pronoun is not professionally well-motivated. I understand you try to find a common ground and I think you don't think it is right to force someone to specify their pronoun, but sharing what I have in mind.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 2:10
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Instead of the legal aspects, I would like to address the professional and ethical aspects of the pronouns trend.

In my opinion, the purpose of announcing your pronouns is to indicate that you will address other people with respect. The message that is sent is: since I told you my pronouns, you know that if you tell me how you want to be addressed I will not disrespect that preference.

There is a secondary purpose. People whose pronouns are not obvious may feel stress because they are the only ones who have to announce their pronouns. If you announce your pronouns, you are reducing that stress.

Therefore, the professional way to behave is to announce your pronouns. It's respectful.

Requiring people to announce their pronouns is, however, unethical. Some people are not sure how they wish to be addressed. Other people may not feel safe discussing their preferences. Requiring these people to announce their pronouns is abusive. Not announcing your pronouns is not necessarily wrong or disrespectful.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Jan 11 at 2:04
  • Please use the above linked chat for any further discussion. We can only move comments to chat once, which means that other comments have been deleted, but you can use the chat as long as you wish keeping a respectful tone. Please also read the question post notice and this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 13 at 11:13
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While I don't know if it's technically illegal, I'd say that picking a fight like this would absolutely affect your academic career. Explaining this, I think, requires unpacking some of the social circumstances around these issues.

You say "I personally would rather to not to do so for social and religious reasons." Stating one's pronouns is sometimes used as a slightly coded way of expressing support for transgender and non-binary people. It's important to realize that stating one's pronouns has clear merits outside of this though. Even if you think it's obvious by the way you look (and perhaps you have a name strongly associated with one gender), it may not be obvious to students from different cultures than your own. Even if confusion is unlikely, it hardly hurts to make it plainly clear and referencable, so picking a fight over it really begs a bigger question.

From your question, it sounds to my cynical brain that you do not want anyone to think that you are supportive of transgender or non-binary people. Please feel free to clarify, but without further information this is what I (and quite possibly your professor, peers, and students) would cynically assume, given that many such people exist.

I'll be frank. Without more context, picking such a fight sounds rather extreme to me. You aren't being asked to affirm the existence of trans people, you aren't even being asked to use other people's preferred pronouns, you are just being asked to put down how you personally prefer to be referred to. So why the fight? It's hard for me to imagine an honest answer that isn't at least in part what I've described above. If you are fighting about something so inconsequential, it makes me wonder how you'd interact with any trans or non-binary people in your class (including those in the closet). If I came to the conclusion that you weren't capable of being respectful to all students (part of your job as a TA, IMO), I wouldn't want you as a TA.

Critics may argue that I'm being too cynical or assuming too much here, and indeed if I actually had to make any decisions here I'd definitely be following up and asking you much more specific questions and not relying on reading between the lines like this. No, I say all this in hopes that I can help you and others understand why your professor, or other people like me, may have concerns with you picking a fight like this. If my cynical discussion above doesn't describe you, then you should make this extra clear to avoid having whoever you talk to assume the worst.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read the post notice on top of the question and this FAQ before posting another comment. We can only move comments to chat once, but you can use the chat as long as you wish keeping a respectful tone.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11 at 20:09
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Many universities in the United States have a faculty member who serves as the university ombuds, uh, person. Here is what my institution says about that office:

An Ombuds provides confidential and informal assistance in the resolution of university-related concerns, especially those not being addressed adequately through normal procedures. He or she is an independent person who attempts to consider all sides of an issue in an impartial and objective manner. An Ombuds cannot impose solutions but can help identify options and strategies for resolution.

If such a person is available in your institution, make an appointment to have a chat. Do it soon because your syllabus is likely due very soon. If not, try to find a senior faculty member in another department who will talk with you about your dilemma.

A person whose duties include resolution of concerns, particularly, can tell you the official requirements for a syllabus, which will answer your "legally" question. Such a person can give you advice on whether declining to do what your professor has asked will damage your career at that particular institution.

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    I upvoted, but this answer does not leave me 100% satisfied, because it's basically telling "ask the ombudsperson, not us". We can also address the core issue here, though, I believe. Jan 10 at 9:20
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    @FedericoPoloni We can't address the "legality" of the requirement without knowing the policies of OP's particular institution. We can't address the potential for damage to OP's career without knowing far more the climate of the department and school, and of the reputation of the professor therein.
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 10 at 15:50
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    The discussion around the term Ombuds has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. We can only move comments to chat once, but you can use the chat as long as you wish keeping a respectful tone.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11 at 20:31
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Am I legally obligated to do so?

A UK employment law expert believes that, in the UK, the answer is no:

The question of whether UK businesses can force their employees to share their pronouns on their email signatures* was raised by a recent tweet. The answer, categorically, is no. [emphasis added —DR]

[...]

“Forcing employees to reveal their pronoun preferences could leave employers open to discrimination claims, and employees feeling alienated.

* Note: the article is discussing employers forcing employees to put their pronouns in an email signature and here we’re talking about a course outline, but that small difference seems obviously immaterial.

If someone can find the tweet the article mentioned, we could probably find additional discussions including for the US context.

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    Recently read a story from a woman who said that the women employees of their coffee shop were harassed/stalked so much they started to use fake name tags. So I think the legal principle makes sense, although students work much closer with a TA than a barista. Jan 10 at 0:36
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    @AzorAhai-him- Yes, good point. Another way of thinking about it is that if we believe employers should not be allowed to prohibit an employee from listing their pronouns if the employee wishes to do so, we should also stand up for the rights of an employee who doesn’t want to share their pronouns not to be forced to do so by their employers. Both of those principles respect the rights of individuals not to have employers meddle in sensitive issues of gender and personal identity that have nothing to do with their employees’ work performance and capabilities.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 10 at 1:25
  • I'm not sure the inverse follows, but don't want to get into here. Jan 10 at 1:38
  • @DanRomik while I agree, I'm also a fan of Kant/looking at the extreme when evaluating something. One issue that would come up when everyone rejects stating their pronouns/gender at all would be discrimination analysis. How do you check whether there is discrimination against one gender identity group if you don't get any statistics on it ;) If you value the goal of doing such an analysis that could be a problem. But that's more something for a bit higher level discussion of what a future society should look like I guess. Jan 10 at 12:19
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You should consult your university administration if you are unclear about whether this is an official requirement. Note that it is unlikely (though not impossible) that this will be specifically a legal requirement, but will more likely be a matter of university policy.

The university can require you to put this on you syllabus, if it is the policy. It is also possible that, since you are the TA, the professor of record for the course may be able to require you to put this information on your syllabus.

As far as I know, there are not any religious considerations that would prevent someone from being able to disclose their pronouns, but if you feel you are being discriminated against by this requirement, that is something to take up with a lawyer.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Jan 10 at 19:40
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Don't get in conflicting situations you can avoid. Learn to avoid conflicting situations well -- it is a very common interview question nowadays and you will be judged on your ability to handle conflict. ("We escalated this to the Dean" certainly will not reflect well on you.) Below I describe one possible compromise I think might avoid conflict and keep peace.


You say some answers suggested you find an alternative, and you did. However, it seems like your alternative is not a satisfactory compromise and still leads to conflict.

Consider how you would react if the request was phrased like this:

Please provide short biography of a few sentences about your research interests to include in the course outline. These are usually written in third person.

Would you still find the request unreasonable? This type of biography, always written in 3rd person, is common in most University profile pages and required by certain journal formats. It might look something like this:

Poman, PhD (TA, statistical analysis)

Poman completed his PhD on the topic of "Statistical study of Foo and its application to Bar" from University of Somewhere in 2017. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Right Here, working on extending his PhD work to Fee. His other research interests include statistics, and other processes from the Floo family.

I think this might be a good compromise, that satisfies everybody, as:

  • this is something quite reasonable to include in the course outline ("meet the delivery team"). It could be slightly shorter or longer as appropriate.
  • it accomplishes your professor's goal -- shares your pronouns (notice that the above paragraph could have been written using any set of pronouns, or even avoiding them completely and referring to you by name)
  • it accomplishes your goal of expressing yourself following research standards, and without sharing your view on, well, any other issues.
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  • Good suggestion and good points about avoiding conflict. As another alternative along the same lines, OP could simply list their name with an honorific Mr or Ms.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 11 at 16:09
  • @DanRomnik Actually, I think my point about avoiding conflict should be the main point, and this just a possible solution. I'll move it to the top of the answer.
    – penelope
    Jan 12 at 11:45
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update: this answer may have become less relevant (but hopefully still worth to read) now that more details about the situation have emerged from the edits and extended discussions in multiple comments.

As usual in a situation of differing opinion it will be very useful to try and understand the point of view of the other party. You say that "it is very obvious what my pronouns are from the way I look", but clearly your professor does not think so, otherwise she would not expect students to "be confused".

If your students do not know how to address you this could lead to uncomfortable situations (for you and for them) and possibly similar conflicts as the one you are currently having with your professor. The very fact that this discussion with your professor happened makes her point of view very understandable: you would not wish to have a similar conflict with one or more of your students.

If both you and your professor claim "religious" or "ethical" reasons for their point of view it will become very difficult to choose who is right. (Personally, and depending on the details that are not given in your question, I would probably choose your side, but my personal opinion is not a useful answer to your question.)

To answer your questions: There is unlikely to be a legal requirement to add the pronoun to a course outline, but having a bad relationship with your professor can affect your academic career: you may not get a good reference letter or contract extension in your current laboratory. Of course neither of these should prevent you from having a good academic career anyway.

To be perfectly honest (but this is again an opinion), I think you should not make a big issue out of this and follow your professor's suggestion to add the pronoun (even though you may be right that leaving it out will not cause any problems). In work and life, things cannot always go the way you want. Politics, religion, and egoism do not belong on the work floor (a valuable lesson for both parties in this conflict). If, in your own words "it is very obvious what my pronouns are from the way I look", no harm will be done by adding that pronoun to your name on the course outline. If it hurts your pride, accept it and move on.

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    I guess one question is whether the professor thinks pronouns should be stated because she believes this is important, or whether the professor actually thinks there is no "evident" pronoun for the OP for some reason (beyond rejecting "evident" pronouns as such). You seem to make an implicit choice here which is not necessarilyh suggested by the post. - Also, note that your last paragraph equally could be applied to the professor.
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 21:40
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    But you don't give a (good) argument why the OP should give way. Except that they are in the weaker position, but this is not a good justification. (Then, the professor should always be right.) Since it seems that the relation to the professor is more fundamentally damaged (since they have very different world views and at least one of them finds it difficult to work with someone with opposing worldview), it might not matter so much, and they should move on anyway.
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 21:47
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    The professor is not asking for advice here. If she was, I would advise her to give in as well. The situation needs to be de-escaleted, not escalated.
    – Louic
    Jan 9 at 21:50
  • 3
    Fair point. It might help to clarify that your point in the last paragraph is de-escalation, and not to take the party of the professor (being it because of her point of because of her power) over the OPs.
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 21:54
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    If your students do not know how to address you - One is not specifying 2nd person pronouns, but 3rd. Knowing someone's preferred pronouns isn't about how to address them, it's about how to talk about them and knowing something about how they self-identify.
    – Kimball
    Jan 10 at 1:30
4

The best way to win this kind of fight is to not start it in the first place. It is probably too late for you to take this approach.

University administrators are used to getting their emails ignored, and they are used to getting incomplete replies because people didn't read the email properly.

I would just ignore the question about your pronouns, reply to everything else in the email, as if the pronoun section didn't exist. If they send a follow up email just ignore it. If they show up in person at your desk then it's clearly a big deal and you won't win the fight by ignoring it.

If you had followed this approach then I think there would have been a 90% chance that your name appeared without pronouns. However, it's too late now as they know that you don't want pronouns by your name, so lack of pronouns can't be written off to laziness/incompetence.

0

First, you may think that

it is very obvious what my pronouns are from the way I look.

but not everyone's pronouns can be inferred from the way they look.

Second, providing one's pronouns is becoming increasingly common. So is the singular "they" in unknown situations. I am learning to do so even though it makes an old language conservative like me uncomfortable.

I don't know whether or not your professor can insist that you provide your pronouns. But I think you should honor his/her/their request if you can.

If you have religious reasons (beyond just social reasons) that make it really uncomfortable to specify your (presumably traditional and noncontroversial) pronouns you may need to take that up with your professor.

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    You of course raise fair points, but it doesn't answer the two questions raised: "Am I legally obligated to do so? If not, will this effect my academic career?"
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 17:54
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    @Morgan Sure, I'm just saying that the answer above does not answer the question. Your comment would be a better answer.
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 19:25
  • 2
    @Ethan "Her" or "here"? ;) In any case, I fully acknowledge that the points you raise are worth being said; they just don't constitute an answer (unless academia.SE has a different notion of "answer" - especially since it now says "You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked below.")
    – user151413
    Jan 9 at 19:27
  • 6
    "but not everyone's pronouns can be inferred from the way they look." is rather a moot point; most people's pronouns are obvious, and OP seems to be quite certain they fall into this category.
    – Servaes
    Jan 10 at 17:58
  • 2
    I also don't understand the distinction between "religious reasons" and "social reasons", but that may just be a consequence of being raised in a mostly non-religious environment.
    – Servaes
    Jan 10 at 18:00
0

If you were here in the UK, it very likely would affect your career path and there's little reason to suppose geography will be any defence.

The UK press, if not radio and TV media, almost daily reveals examples of institutions insisting any possibility that students might be confused trumps however obvious your pronouns might be from the way you look.

It's very likely your contract of employment requires you to do whatever the institution deems reasonable. Since in most circumstances "the institution" comes down to "the professor" again, yes, it very likely will affect your career

"Poman's stuff; Poman said; I deliver it to Poman" should be acceptable to any open mind but your professor's ideas of "should" and "open-minded" are more likely to influence your career path than yours or mine; the more so since - according to your description - "once she found that I am on the opposite spectrum of her social/political opinions… she wants to escalate this…"

A quick look around SE's English Language Learners/Usage pages should show why this problem won't go away any time soon.

However much work open-minded people put into using the language carefully, people on the other end of a social/political spectrum which only they define, seem bent on insisting not only "he" or "she" but even "he or she" must be subverted by "they."

2
  • I don't really follow paragraph 5.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 1:06
  • Par 5 because Par 6… their definition, their insistence, you can't win Jan 11 at 1:22
0

Saying what your pronouns are is more and more common. To lots of us it feels awkward, because we are not used to it. But in fact it is like curb cuts for wheelchair users making life easier for people pushing baby carriages or using shopping carts, it actually solves a lot of problems. For example, I am a woman who codes, even with my picture and what to me is an obviously female first name, people assume I am male. On SO or mailing lists they say "sir" or "he." It's annoying and draining to constantly correct but also draining and discouraging to have my identity denied if I do not correct.

By having everyone declare their pronouns rather than just the people who get called by incorrect pronouns, it makes things better and less awkward for everyone. By having the leaders of the course do this, it makes it more comfortable for the students in the course to do this.

Since you clearly have a set of pronouns you want to be addressed with, I don't understand why it's a big political statement at all for you to share that with people. Don't get sidetracked by your feelings about the issue of recognizing other people's preferred pronouns that may not match what you think they should use. Your supervisor has made a simple request to provide that information about yourself. The problem of what you are going to do if you have determined (somehow) that someone is using the "wrong" pronouns from your perspective, then you can deal with that issue when the time comes.

Just to answer the specific issue of will it impact your career, I would say that in general if you want to pick a fight with your supervisor who may in the future be someone you need a reference from that is a choice you have to make. It depends how important the issue is to them and whether you are able to make up for your defiance of their instructions in other ways.

6
  • 5
    This answer is very biased and it does not answer any of the questions. It is not "political" and it is not "feelings". Please stop simplifying the issue and twist it around. I also do not ask about the benefits of pronoun. Secondly, SO has people from all over the world. 80% of them don't know English well, and when they speak will translate what is in their native tongue to English. There are languages who address an unknown person with a masculine pronoun. It is not sexist, it is language structure.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 12:06
  • 3
    Exactly, that is why it would possibly be better if pronouns were declared rather than leaving it to people to guess.
    – Elin
    Jan 11 at 13:07
  • 5
    @poman The fact that you dislike it does not mean the answer is biased.
    – JS Lavertu
    Jan 11 at 13:53
  • 2
    @poman Incorrect. It is deeply political.
    – iono
    Jan 12 at 15:57
  • 1
    "Since you clearly have a set of pronouns you want to be addressed with" How is this clear? I cannot find any indication in the question. Perhaps (and statistically likely) OP falls into the category of people who do not care one bit about which pronouns others use to refer to them. But I wouldn't dare state this as a clear fact; I'd ask poman if I cared.
    – Servaes
    Jan 13 at 23:17
0

Update - There is a precedent for using one's name as a pronoun

I have detailed this in the EDIT at the end of this answer.

I suggest you copy the article to anyone who challenges you. I did one brief search. If you search further I'm sure you will find the name option in other universities.

I suggest you use the search term university gender pronouns


suggested to use my name instead! For instance: poman's stuff, poman said, I deliver it to poman. That is how we keep mutual respect. I always do this. I call people with their names, and I will ask about their names if i don't know.

"poman" is a perfectly good pronoun when we consider the general proliferation of pronouns these days. It also has the advantage of being your name. It indicates that you are friendly enough for everyone to address you this way and leaves no worrying doubt in the minds of students.

Some people profess to being of fluid gender and they presumably would not want to commit to a fixed set of pronouns. Using a name seems ideal. In syntactic and semantic terms, it makes the meaning of sentences much clearer by describing who is being talked about.

I cannot see how anyone could logically or legally argue against this.


EDIT

With very little effort, looking at the first few results of a google search, I found that at least one university is allowing the use of names as a pronoun so there is a precedent for this.

"We ask everyone at orientation to state their pronouns," says Sara Bendoraitis, of the university's Center for Diversity and Inclusion, "so that we are learning more about each other rather than assuming." ... At the University of Vermont, which has led this movement, students can choose from "he," "she," "they," and "ze," as well as "name only" - meaning they don't want to be referred to by any third-person pronoun, only their name.

... Most people stick to the default option, "none", which means they are not registering a pronoun - presumably because they are content to let people decide whether they are a "he" or a "she".

At the University of Vermont, which has led this movement, students can choose from "he," "she," "they," and "ze," as well as "name only" meaning they don't want to be referred to by any third-person pronoun, only their name.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34901704

12
  • 2
    One argument against this: it makes text completely unreadable if the name is long and/or occurs many times in the same sentence or paragraph. This argument may not apply to this case, but you state that it is impossible to argue against this: it is not.
    – Louic
    Jan 10 at 14:24
  • 3
    @Louic what about trying to remember long list of pronounces? that would be even more confusing especially in academic settings, where people usually are not English native speakers. They already struggles with "it" especially people whose their native language has only masculine and feminine.
    – poman
    Jan 10 at 14:59
  • 3
    @Louic - P.S. You say, "you state that it is impossible to argue against this" If you read what I actually said, it was not this. I try to be careful with my words. Specifically I did not use the word "impossible". It is always possible to argue with any statement. If you say "Grass is green" I can argue and say "Not in the height of summer if there has been no rain." or I can simply say, "Grass is pink" - that is an argument of sorts. Jan 10 at 20:07
  • 2
    @chasly-supportsMonica - Sorry for mis-quoting you: I like that you have chosen your words carefully and try to do so as well (not always successfully but I do my best). I do not dislike your answer and have not downvoted it, but just wanted to add a possible reason to use pronouns.
    – Louic
    Jan 10 at 20:35
  • 3
    @chasly-supportsMonica Yes, many have been proposed, but not very many are being used. So I wouldn't call anything a "proliferation" - maybe 1% of people want to use "they," and very few use anything else. So the idea that there's a crazy list of pronouns to memorize is specious. Jan 11 at 20:24
-1

I would certainly not pick a fight over such a minor issue and I definitely see no "religious reason" that would prevent me from openly declaring that I'm a white heterosexual male and, thereby, should be normally addressed as "he" (in my case). If something is, as you said, obvious, why to refuse to state it openly? It is like stating that "the sky over lake Erie is normally of grey color" and if somebody I respect wants me to put it as an official statement, I'll oblige even if I may consider it somewhat silly. There is no real harm made to anyone.

This said, I usually do not put my pronouns or make any other statements of that kind on my syllabus and I am openly anti-Woke. This has nothing to do with supporting or not supporting transgender, etc. people; they have their own "scoring boards" in my mind and I just add or subtract 1 to the corresponding group scores after every individual encounter like I do it for any other group of people. I merely generally dislike people who are too eager to tell me how I should think and behave in general when those requirements go beyond the restrictions imposed by the US law and contract terms. However, I certainly make an exception from that rule when somebody I respect asks me to do something I normally won't.

In general, my advice is to value individual relationships over political views. We are separated and polarized enough here, so we'd better try to learn to yield to each other on minor issues like that whenever possible and the one who yields will definitely look smarter in the end. Stand your ground firmly only when you really have something important to defend and only against people whom you unquestionably classify as your enemies. Your workplace normally should not be a battleground. Turning it into one is detrimental for everybody involved.

Just my two cents :-)

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read the post notice and this FAQ before posting another comment. We can only move comments to chat once, but you can use the chat as long as you wish keeping a respectful tone.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11 at 7:21
-2

I can't comment on the legality. However...

Will it affect my career?

Your career depends on working with people. Sometimes you have to do things which seem like a waste of time to you, but which help other people.

You may think that stating pronouns only relate to trans people. This is not correct. "Hilary" used to be a man's name, and you still occasionally find men called that. (We have a male politician in the UK called Hilary Benn.) There are various spellings of Lesley/Leslie, and they do not always correspond to gender. Jean could be a female name, or a male French name. And that's before we get to less well-known names, which of course hits its peak with the African-American tradition of inventing names where a name could be genuinely unique.

If you've met the person, you know whether to say "he" or "she". (Or perhaps something else.) If you've only ever corresponded with them on email, you have no idea. So knowing what to call them makes life easier for everyone. Maybe it doesn't apply to you so much, but it certainly will apply to other people.

If you're unable to put yourself in other people's shoes for this, and see the benefits of applying this across the board, then it certainly will affect your career. Not specifically for this, but from the point-of-view of you being unable to understand how a large organisation is administered and being able to work with other people who have slightly different requirements to you. You have also created significantly more work in fighting this than it would have taken just to do it, and you've affected your relationship with your superior. You have started creating a reputation for yourself as being inflexible and unreasonable about things which have little or no practical cost to you. As a TA, your natural progression is into teaching at the same university, and if people don't want to work with you then they won't hire you, whatever your other skills may be.

Beyond that, your statement about a religious objection suggests that you may have issues working with gay or trans colleagues or students. There is a difference between having an opinion where people can agree to differ, and an opinion where you believe certain groups of people should not be allowed to exist. The latter case would affect your ability to do your job, and employers would then be entitled to fire you or to refuse to hire you in the first place. If your superior is concerned enough to escalate this, it seems likely that you are in this situation. In that case you should not just be concerned about having an academic career but concerned about ever being employed by anyone down to sweeping floors at Target.

17
  • 3
    "your statement about a religious objection suggests that you may have issues working with gay or trans colleagues or students." I don't think you ever read my question
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 12:20
  • 3
    @poman It's easy to claim that you don't treat people differently, but subconscious bias can have a massive effect on how you actually treat them.
    – JS Lavertu
    Jan 11 at 14:44
  • 4
    @JSLavertu what about other religions? do people from different religions treat each other badly in the US, for instance? What about cultural difference? What about political difference? All of this can cause "subconscious bias". You want everyone to be a copy of each other and I think you equalize the disagreement with disrespect. Since you give such a general statement, I'd say it reflects what you have in your mind not mine.
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 14:48
  • 4
    @poman I never said you're the only one with subconscious bias, everyone has their own. What I did say is that subconscious bias makes it harder/impossible to recognise our own discriminatory behavior. There's a difference between our own perceived behavior and our actual one. It's entirely possible you don't discriminate at all, but it's also possible you discriminate in ways you don't even notice.
    – JS Lavertu
    Jan 11 at 14:53
  • 2
    @JSLavertu you just gave general sentences that contain all possibilities. I don't understand what you want to say. "discriminate in ways you don't notice." like what?
    – poman
    Jan 11 at 14:58

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