Original Research

Gender pronoun use in the university classroom: A post-humanist perspective

Marcos A. Norris, Andrew Welch
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 5 | a79 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v5i0.79 | © 2020 Marcos Norris, Andrew Welch | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 October 2019 | Published: 25 May 2020

About the author(s)

Marcos A. Norris, Department of English, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, United States
Andrew Welch, Department of English, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, United States


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Abstract

Background: This article explores the political impact of using gender neutral pronouns in the university classroom.

Aim: We explore how the gender neutral pronoun ‘they’ denaturalises essentialist models of gender identity. We follow ‘they’ toward a consideration of the gender neutral pronoun ‘it.’ ‘It’ advances – at the same time that it problematises – the political project of non-binary communities to denaturalise gender by challenging an anthropocentric model of equal rights.

Setting: We examine the latent humanism of pronoun use through our contrasting approaches to gender pronoun use in our writing courses.

Methods: First we discuss the role of genderneutral pronouns in building a more inclusive classroom environment for gender non-conforming students. We then consider our respective pedagogical approaches to pronoun use. Andrew avoids pronoun use in the classroom, addressing his students by their first names instead, while Marcos makes pronoun use and gender identity a central part of his course curriculum. We then consider the pronoun ‘it’ from a posthumanist perspective, arguing that ‘it’ might help to overcome the violent legacy of humanism by building a more inclusive classroom environment for gender-nonconforming students.

Results: The analysis of ‘it’ as a gender neutral pronoun has revolutionary potential. Deconstructing our conceptions of equal rights from a posthumanist perspective can transform higher education for the better.

Conclusion: The article concludes that college educators should consider discussing the significance of the pronoun ‘it.’ Given its dehumanising potential, this discussion should be presented in light of the posthumanist critique of anthropocentrism, and must affirm students’ existing identifications.


Keywords

post-humanism; gender pronouns; trans and gender non-conforming; university culture; gender inclusive pedagogy

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