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The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ registration tool now gives students the option to choose preferred gender pronouns for the first time, a change administrators say is an effort to make students more comfortable with their gender identity.
On the page that typically asks students to write down their gender marker—examples of which include “male,” “female,” and “transgender”—they could also manually write in preferred gender pronouns when they registered this week. Examples on the page included “ze, hir, hirs” and “they, them, theirs.”
FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke said the change, which administrators have discussed for a number of years, was intended to “make students feel more comfortable with their gender identity” at Harvard and ease students’ relationships with faculty and advisers, some of whom will be able to see their pronoun information.
“It’s important when you are writing emails or referring a student to another person in the College, you want to do it the right way,” Burke said.
This year’s rollout of a new student information system made adding a new gender pronoun option much easier, according to Burke. His office worked in consultation with the Harvard Trans* Task Force, the College's Office of BGLTQ Student Life, and various students over the course of implementation.
Students involved in the implementation say they welcome the change as a recognition of the needs of transgender students on campus.
“Before, folks really had to have a personal conversation of pronouns that they prefer,” said Joshua Blecher-Cohen ’16, an intern at the Office of BGLTQ Student Life. “Often times in classes there was no space on the first day of class for folks to make that clear, and so this standardizes it across the board.”
He said the new option will also increase awareness of the different gender pronouns that students might use on Harvard’s campus.
Henri G-D ’16, who preferred not to be identified by last name because of potential job discrimination against transgender people, said professors and advisers typically do not mean to do any harm, but often misgender students, resulting in “awkward conversations.”
“It’s just that they literally don’t have any information, which puts it on the students to explain,” Henri said. That, Henri hopes, will change with the registration tool’s gender pronouns option.
Burke, for his part, likened the change to the option of using a preferred name, instead of a legal name.
The federal government requires Harvard and other universities to ask students whether they are male or female, he added, but not about their preferred gender pronouns. He said he does not know how Harvard will use the gender pronoun information for internal data collection, if at all, though it could be useful for student health services or the student housing office.
Blecher-Cohen said students and Harvard staff alike still will need to be educated more on the use of gender pronouns, but that offering different options is a promising start for including students.
“It’s not a panacea; it doesn't fix everything, but hopefully it spurs the conversation so folks are actively thinking about it for the first time,” he said.
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