Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 28, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: Chosen names and affirming pronouns must be respected

Everyone should be called the name they want to be called, and the pronouns they ask you to use. It’s a matter of basic respect, and it’s the law. We recently wrote this letter to all faculty and staff to support and inform them, and to provide ideas and resources. We hope this information will assist students as well, in interacting with peers, and in living and working in today’s world.

Classes are upon us, and we wanted to provide a reminder about the role that we as faculty and staff play in the experience that our students have at Ithaca College.

Some of our students are transgender, genderqueer, agender, or have another gender identity. A student may approach you before class starts or may send an email, asking you to note that they use a different name than what appears on the roster or program attendance list, and/or pronouns different than what might be assumed. Some cisgender (non-transgender) students use a name different than their birth name, too.

Many of these students have encountered disrespect and frustration due to others not respecting their name or gender in their lives and academic careers before entering IC.
The beginning of each semester can be an especially challenging time.

Under Federal Education Amendment Title IX, a school must treat students consistent with their gender identity, and faculty and staff must use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity (even if their identity documents indicate different information). Protecting transgender students’ privacy is critical. Disclosing information such as a student’s birth name or sex assigned at birth could be harmful or an invasion of privacy. It may also violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as Title IX. For more information, please see the most recent guidance from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education:

Inclusive strategies for welcoming students include:

1. Ask all students to complete index cards with contact information, the name they use/like to be called, and answers to a few other questions, on the first day. You may also invite all students to write their pronouns too. You may need to explain/give examples, e.g. my pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’; my pronouns are ‘they/them.’

2. Use the name a student asks you to use, regardless of whether the roster or participation list has a different name, and regardless of whether the roster name seems to be a name associated with another gender. (Also — please do not point this out publicly or mention it to other students.) Making this simple change before publicly reading the roster or program attendance list will avoid inadvertently embarrassing the student or disclosing their personal information to others.

3. Be aware of campus resources. For instance, the LGBT Center provides consultation, resources, support, and referral. Program Director Luca Maurer provides consultation to faculty and staff seeking more information, and connects students to the policies, programs, and services on our campus that support them. Contact him at [email protected] and 607-274-7394.

4. Put a Title IX paragraph on the syllabus or orientation/contact materials you provide to your students:
Title IX is a federal act mandating that educational institutions receiving federal funding must provide sex and gender equity. All students thus have the right to a campus atmosphere free of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and gender discrimination. To make a report of sexual assault, sexual harassment or gender discrimination, please contact Tiffani Ziemann, Title IX Coordinator at [email protected] and 607-274-7761. Please visit for more information.

Simple adjustments like this will make a big difference in welcoming students into our classrooms and co-curricular learning opportunities across campus. These actions are part of the larger work of creating and sustaining an inclusive, supportive, safe, and nondiscriminatory campus community for all our students.

If you have questions or would like a presentation on this or similar topics for your department, office, class or student group, please contact either Luca or Tiffani directly.

Thank you for the work you do creating welcoming and inclusive spaces for our students.

Tiffani Ziemann Luca Maurer
Title IX Coordinator
[email protected]

Luca Maurer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Program Director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services                                                                                                                                                                       [email protected]

The authors would also like to acknowledge Dr. Rebecca Plante, whose previous efforts to educate her colleagues about the important issue of respecting individuals’ chosen names and pronouns provided some of our inspiration in writing this letter.