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Universities consider preferred pronouns

“Two years ago, we introduced preferred first name and also gender marker where they can describe themselves,” said Michael Burke, registrar of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard.

Burke said the government requires Harvard to report students’ sex for legal reasons, but Harvard has open-ended answers for gender and an option for preferred name and gender pronouns.

“Since (the preferred name option), we’ve had a request to include gender pronouns through the Harvard Trans Task Force and the Office of LGBTQ Student Life,” Burke said.

Burke said the groups have been working together over the past year to add the question to registration. Students can update their responses at any time.

“We make it available to health services, the housing office, the campus police and any — what we call downstream users of the data — can access this, but they would have to update their information systems to pull it in,” Burke said.

UNC students can specify preferred pronouns during visits to Campus Health Services.

Mary Covington, executive director of Campus Health Services, said her office worked with a transgender student to be more respectful of self-identities.

“That prompted us to take a look at our intake forms, and we made some changes,” she said.

The form includes an option for patients to choose preferred name and pronouns.

“I think that it helps in health care situations that people are respectful. And we also need to know if people have specific health care needs,” Covington said.

Covington said Campus Health Services could benefit from students identifying their pronouns through school registration if the pronouns would be available to campus health staff.

UNC student Hannah Hodge, who prefers the pronoun they, said they were in favor of Harvard’s practice and would like to see it at UNC. Hodge prefers to use they, them and their as their pronouns.

“I have never heard someone blatantly disregard someone’s preferred pronouns in my classes, but I’ve also only had the chance in one class (to say) what my preferred gender pronouns were, and that was in a women’s studies class,” Hodge said.

“And even then I remember having to, like, even push for that to happen.”

Terri Phoenix, director of UNC’s LGBTQ Center, said in an email that the center tried to work with the registrar’s office to get a preferred name option, but the software UNC uses doesn’t have that capability.

Burke said the new options have not been controversial at Harvard, and he’s talked with registrars at other universities about making the change.

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