Let’s Go There: Gender Pronouns

At RIC, we respect and celebrate the differences that make each of us unique. While many of us have been taught that there are two and only two genders—male and female—we recognize that there are individuals in our world and on our campus who do not identify as the gender with which they were assigned at birth. For those who do not fall neatly into either the male or female categories, constant references to the binary male and female groupings can be alienating, triggering, and exclusive. Therefore, we encourage every member of our campus community to respect each individual’s gender identity and preferred personal pronouns.

The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ODEI) highly recommends that RIC students, faculty, and staff demonstrate their commitment to inclusion by identifying their personal pronouns whenever possible. One great place to do so is in each person’s email signature. For example:

From: Jdoe_2020@ric.edu
To: Associate VP for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Using Gender-Neutral Language

Good day,

This is an example of how each member of the RIC Community can demonstrate their commitment to maintaining an inclusive campus climate by using gender-inclusive language and identifying their personal pronouns in their email signatures!


J. Doe

Jamie Doe | He/him or they/them

Project Manager
Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI)
Rhode Island College
600 Mount Pleasant Avenue
Providence, RI 02908

You can learn more about how this best practice and other uses of gender-inclusive language help to foster an inclusive climate here.

Shared Concepts

  • Gender: A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, or some other identity. Fundamentally different from the sex one is assigned at birth; a set of social, psychological and emotional traits, often influenced by societal expectations
  • Gender Expression: How one expresses oneself, in terms of dress, mannerisms and/or behaviors that society characterizes as "masculine" or "feminine."
  • Gender-neutral/Gender-inclusive Pronoun: A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.


  1. How to Use Gender-Neutral Language and Why it’s Important to Try by Kim Elsesser, Forbes Magazine
  2. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee LGBTQ+ Resource Center

Frequently Asked Questions

We cannot always assume a person’s pronouns solely by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.

When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (often all of the above.)

It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.

She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses he feels like a “male” or “masculine.”

There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:

  • They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, “they” was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.
  • Ze/hir/hir (Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.

*Never refer to a person as “it” or “he-she”. These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

It’s okay! Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)”

If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.

A lot of the time it can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. Please don’t! It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job.

Taking an active role in your classes, you may hear one of your students using the wrong pronoun for someone. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct them without further embarrassing the individual who has been misgendered. This means saying something like “Alex uses the pronoun she,” and then moving on. If other students or faculty are consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it! It is important to let your student know that you are their ally.

It may be appropriate to approach them and say something like “I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronoun earlier, and I know that that can be really hurtful. Would you be okay with me taking them aside and reminding them about your pronouns?” Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the comfort level of your student. Your actions will be greatly appreciated.

Rhode Island College entrance

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Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

The Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion leads institutional initiatives that promote a diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus community.