The University of Edinburgh will be distributing badges to freshers which indicate the pronoun they should use to refer to each other.
The badges will have “he”, “she”, or “they” printed on them. Officials for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) will hand them out during “Welcome Week”, and they are a “voluntary system” that students can choose to wear or not.
They were launched to avoid “misgendering”, which is when the gender of non-binary or transgender students are identified according to their physical attributes, while they associate with another or no gender.
Kai O’Doherty, vice-president for welfare at EUSA, explained the move: “We are doing this to show trans students and trans people that we support them and that we are doing what we can to raise awareness about what people can do to be more trans inclusive.”
They added: “There is always going to be debate on issues that are kind of new around social inclusion but we have only had positive feedback from students so far.”
He also said that pronoun badges and stickers were becoming “increasingly common” at National Union of Students conferences and LGBTUA+ events.
In addition to the badges, the EUSA published “A Short Guide to Sharing Pronouns for Trans Allies”, which aims at “normalising the practice of sharing our pronouns”.
The guide states that assuming one’s pronouns is “frustrating and harmful” for transgender or non-binary students. Pronouns may also change over time for some students, since “gender is fluid”.
It warns against asking about “preferred” pronouns, due to the implication that pronouns are a preference, instead of a necessity. Moreover, it said: “Many people assume that the pronouns they should use for an individual are obvious.
“If we choose to make assumptions about which pronouns are correct, we risk misgendering people and/or singling out trans people who want to clarify their pronouns.”
Rowan MacKenzie, who starts his studies at Edinburgh in September, disagreed with the badges. He stated: “I think all this labelling has gone too far. All these incentives – like the pronoun badges – create division instead of creating unity.”
He added: “Everyone keeps asking for equality and to be treated the same – which is what I believe in – but these badges divide everyone into a box creating the exact opposite.”
Pronoun badges are a really easy and effective way for cis allies to support trans people and help normalise asking people what pronouns they use
– Alex Lythall
Regarding Edinburgh’s plans, Josh Johnson, the University of Warwick’s student union (SU) LGBTUA+ Officer, said: “I think it’s a step in the right direction towards normalising correct use of pronouns in our speech patterns and avoiding assumptions of gender based on outward appearance.”
Warwick SU’s first Trans Students’ Officer, Alex Lythall, commented: “I think it’s great that Edinburgh SU will be offering free pronoun badges during freshers’ week.
“I think it is also important to note that they are only handing out badges to people to wish to wear one – thus not pressuring anyone into doing so if they do not want to do so.
“Pronoun badges are a really easy and effective way for cis allies to support trans people and help normalise asking people what pronouns they use.”
Responding to whether the SU will adopt similar measures, he said: “We will be running a pronoun badge making session during Welcome Week – following the success of a similar event in term 3 last year – as well as providing pronouns badges to anyone who wishes to have one during Welcome Week.
“The event is open to everyone and we are looking forward to seeing people getting involved.”
Warwick Pride President Jess Hughes said that the society “would very much like to see pronoun badges introduced as part of the Freshers’ Week bags in the future”, and commented that the steps taken by Edinburgh were “fantastic”.
They added: “At Pride we personally encourage members to wear pronoun badges and to ask pronouns as part of conversation, we have even got our own badge maker!
“Part of Pride’s outreach work has included consulting with the new Societies Officer Leo to encourage societies to ask members to introduce themselves with their pronouns, as part of the Welfare Officer initiative.”
The University of Brighton also distributed pronoun badges earlier this year. The University of Sussex’s SU told students and staff to state their pronouns before meetings.
According to The Telegraph, students and academics are now beginning to add preferred pronouns – such as “he/him”, “she/her”, and “they/them” – to email signatures.