UM students to decide their own pronouns

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

In an effort to be inclusive, the University of Michigan announced Wednesday it will allow students to designate their own pronouns that will be reflected on class rosters.

UM students can select pronouns such as he, she, him, her, ze — a gender neutral pronoun — or other pronouns they identify with starting this week.

The change is so students can let others know which pronoun they identify with and expect others to use when referencing them, Provost Martha Pollack and Vice President for Student Life Royster Harper wrote to students on the Ann Arbor campus.

"Faculty members play a vital role in ensuring all of our community feels valued, respected and included,” Pollack and Harper wrote.

“Asking about and correctly using someone's designated pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show respect for their identity and to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities.”

The change comes as more college students are identifying with identities that are more fluid, experts say. According to a list compiled by a volunteer, online advocacy group, Campus Pride, more than 150 universities allow students to change their names to one other than their given name, including Michigan State University and Northern Michigan University. While not on the Campus Pride list, Eastern Michigan University this fall began allowing students to change their names, and/or add a pronoun.

Meanwhile, more than 50 campuses allow students to change their gender on campus records without documents showing medical intervention, though the list does not include colleges in Michigan. Only a handful of universities allow for students to use pronouns, such as the University of Vermont, Harvard University and now UM.

With the new change, UM officials are asking that faculty members review their rosters again in mid- to late October to give students time to designate their pronouns.

“If you make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun, you can acknowledge that you made a mistake and use the correct pronoun next time. Please help us continue to make the University of Michigan an inclusive and welcoming place for all of our students,” the email said.

The issue was addressed by a Pronoun Committee and prompted by a petition led by Wolverines for Pronouns and signed by 795 students.

“So proud of my alma mater and employer,” Jennifer Sporer wrote underneath a story published in the University Record. “Much love and excitement for another step in the right direction toward inclusiveness.”