Frequently Asked Questions: A Guide to Pronouns in Use for Staff

These are the pronouns that students use and want their faculty to use when referring to them. All students are welcome to register their pronouns.

This may be particularly useful for those students who do not identify as male or female or by the gendered pronouns found in many languages. For example, many gender nonbinary students use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir/hirs.

Students who have gender-neutral names may also find this option useful.

We introduced this program because it’s not always possible to tell which pronouns a person uses by their appearance or name. In particular, this may be true for students who are gender nonbinary or who have names that are gender neutral or from a language that is unfamiliar to faculty.

Students’ pronouns are not always apparent by their appearance or name. At Columbia, students can opt to indicate in CourseWorks what pronouns they use, and those pronouns will appear on class rosters as a reference for faculty and other teaching staff, as well as for other course participants.

If you do not have access to CourseWorks, here’s what you can do: When you meet a student, introduce yourself and say what your pronouns are.

For example, you can say, "Hi, I'm Caroline, and my pronouns are she/her." This will provide an opening for the student to share their pronouns if they so choose. If you ask someone what pronouns they use when you first meet them, they may feel forced to out themselves as transgender or gender nonbinary, which they may not be ready to do. Sharing your pronouns when introducing yourself can help ease the way for students to share theirs with you.

There is a growing list of possible options for pronouns in use. At Columbia, students can select from five possible options, which are:

  • She/Her/Hers
  • He/Him/His
  • They/Them/Theirs
  • Ze/Hir/Hirs
  • Use my name as my pronoun

Gender nonbinary people often use Mx. (pronounced "miks") in lieu of Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. If you’re unsure what honorific a student prefers, it’s best to ask.

Once registered, pronouns in use will appear on class rosters, which instructors will see. Not all University systems are connected to each other, and not all information within University systems is automatically shared with other University community members. Classmates and parents (or emergency contacts) will not see this information, nor will it appear on a student’s transcript.

Referring to students by the pronouns they use recognizes students for who they are, which is also true for using students’ preferred names. Most of us want to be called by our preferred name and recognized correctly as male, female or non-binary by those who use pronouns or honorifics to refer to us. 

Acknowledge your mistake and ask the student what pronouns they use. As you wouldn’t repeatedly call a student by the wrong name, you don’t want to refer to a student by the wrong gender. Even unintentional errors can create challenges for students in the learning environment.  

Unintentional and occasional misuse of a pronoun is not discrimination. However, it is important to keep the student’s experience in mind, because you don’t want to inadvertently refer to someone by the wrong gender; even unintentional errors can create challenges for students in the learning environment. Be cognizant of the pronouns a student uses and always try to use them.

Transgender students who are accorded respect and who are affirmed in their identity are more successful academically than those who are not. For more information about the value of inclusive classroom setting in students’ academic success, please see the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia.

A key element of creating a safe and inclusive space for all students and staff is the respectful use of pronouns. It is also important to keep in mind Columbia’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes protection for gender identity. 

This is currently a program for students. We will update faculty and staff when this option becomes available for them.