Transgender students lack protections against misgendering

Sophomore Mason Blacker wears two pins that state their pronouns, but that doesn’t stop professors from misgendering them. Photo by Brent Bemiller.

Transgender students lack protections against misgendering

Last Wednesday was the second ever International Pronouns Day, a day created in 2018 that “seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace,” according to its website. But despite efforts being made by activists to encourage or mandate the correct use of transgender and nonbinary people’s pronouns, University of Maryland, Baltimore County students continue to be misgendered both by their peers and by university employees. 

It is not that UMBC has implemented zero initiatives to protect trans people. According to Jess Myers, director of the Women’s Center, efforts have been made to make sure students’ preferred names appear on certain university documents like rosters, and one’s preferred name can be changed in the self-service area of myUMBC. Myers also told The Retriever via email that a similar function is being developed “to give students the similar option to update their pronouns in the self-service area once Enrollment Management rolls out the updated PeopleSoft system.” 

However, while these initiatives are effective for communicating students’ preferred names and pronouns, there seem to be few policies, procedures or initiatives in place to assure that once pronouns are shared, they will be used.

Mason Blacker, a sophomore theatre studies major, has struggled with this firsthand. In the theatre department, which Blacker characterizes as a space that is generally very inclusive of trans and nonbinary people, teachers usually know to ask their students for their pronouns. But despite knowing that Blacker uses they/them pronouns, one of their professors has been misgendering them for two semesters.

“It’s so refreshing to come to school and have the first day of class be, ‘everyone share your name, your pronouns, your major and a fun fact,’” Blacker explains. “[But] then, the next day, you’re still misgendered.”

The effects of being misgendered by a professor reverberate even beyond the classroom. According to Blacker, when other students hear a professor use the wrong pronouns to refer to them, those students start using those same incorrect pronouns.

Ari Page, a senior english major and a copy editor at The Retriever, has had similar experiences. He recalls two separate instances where a professor sought him out to ask his pronouns, only to continuously get them wrong. “What just really grinds my gears,” Page says, “is that I didn’t ask them. I never sought them out and said ‘these are my pronouns.’ They sought me out to ask my pronouns and then don’t use them.”

Moreover, his professors seem to know when they are misgendering him; they will apologize, promise to try harder next time and then do it again the next day. “UMBC should have … a way to tell someone if a professor repeatedly gets pronouns wrong or is weird and offensive about trans people,” he says.

In fact, UMBC has no such process, at least not for that specific situation. According to Myers, the correct route to take if a professor is not respecting a student’s pronouns is to “consult with the Title IX coordinator to discuss their needs and explore resolutions as this issue could be seen as a gender discrimination issue as it relates to one’s gender identity.”

Bobbie Hoye, UMBC’s Title IX coordinator, agreed, though she did not clarify whether or not such a report had ever been made to the Title IX office. She explained via email that if such a situation were to arise, she “would speak with the Reporting Party to obtain additional information regarding the issue and the context,” such as whether the professor had been informed of the student’s correct pronouns before the incident and if the student believed the misgendering was intentional. She added that “based on the specific context and consistent with how the student would want the issue addressed and based on the assessment of the incident(s), the issue could be addressed informally and/or formally.”

For Blacker, being misgendered by their professor is not a big enough stressor for them to consider reporting it. However, if the misgendering seemed to be intentional or malicious, they would take their complaint to the Title IX office.

Page, on the other hand, would be entirely unwilling to go to the Title IX office to report being misgendered. “It takes way too long to get [complaints] through Title IX. By the time I figured out the process, by the time they respond, by the time it gets resolved, I will have graduated ten years ago,” he says. Furthermore, despite being a senior, Page says he had not previously known that the Title IX office was the correct venue for a complaint of this nature.

Though UMBC has made and continues to make efforts to help trans and nonbinary students inform their professors of their names and pronouns, there seems to be no way of regulating whether or not professors use them — beyond reporting them to the Title IX office, which seems like an incomplete and imperfect solution to some.

“I just think that some people would feel more safe if there was an actual, written policy,” Blacker says. “I think a policy would be like open arms to safety.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that preferred names appear on transcripts. Preferred names do not appear on official transcripts.