At a Student Faculty Advisory Council (SFAC) meeting late this January, a discussion was held over whether or not to suggest to teachers that they promote the use of pronouns on Zoom and in the classroom. This initiative was met with support, confusion, and indifference. Jonah Barresi, Student Body President for the Class of 2022, and a main advocate for this initiative says, “I brought up the idea of doing an email encouragement which would motivate teachers and students to be inclusive.” He also noted that “In this remote stage where we are all on Zoom and it’s easier to see, it may single out the people who feel the need to clarify their identities. It’s an act of inclusion as well as convenience.” Some teachers already have this practice in place in their classrooms, like Ms. Kayla Werlin, Music Department Chair and Vocal Music Director. She notes that “for students who are non-binary or questioning, it gives them the freedom to be who they are.” She also adds that “if everyone is involved, then those students aren’t singled out.”
Barresi noted that the idea of an ‘encouraging email’ was met with confusion since it could come off as something that the teachers are doing wrong, and getting an email about this topic out of the blue may be deceiving. He also noted that some faculty and administration members at the meeting believed that there wasn’t enough context to start this initiative. Barresi explained that “since we are on Zoom, this is a perfect opportunity to take a step forward in this.” Assistant Principal Paul Dunkerley says that asking students their pronouns “varies by the individual,” and that “many people are very comfortable with that, and many are not.” In this respect, Ms. Werlin believes that as teachers, they should “create a community that is safe, and part of a safe environment is understanding that some students may not be comfortable answering, and that’s perfectly fine.” When asked if he would ever consider sending out a mandate to teachers to confirm pronouns with students, Dunkerley says that he “fully and wholly supports teachers who are doing that, but a mandate- No.”
Barresi also says that teachers may not even be considering this right now, which could be dependent on how much they have been exposed to the topic. He recalls teachers such as Ms.Werlin, Ms. Mariel Gross, and Dr. Eric Howard who have been using their pronouns on Zoom consistently and also provide safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Barresi hopes that other teachers will begin to show their support as well, and notes that “our world is starting to move very fast, which I think is great, but sometimes it doesn’t transition over regarding older generations.”
There has also been an increase in students who are gender conforming who choose to use pronouns on Zoom as well as social media. Ms. Werlin notes that she has “always been a She, it’s never been something I had to give any thought to, but it’s important that I realize that not everybody is like that.” Barresi goes on to say, “I’d hope that they would feel more comfortable knowing that more people are acknowledging that there is a variety of expressions, and understanding that some people are transgender, which is part of who they are.” Mr. Dunkerley adds that “It’s an individual choice, and each individual has to answer the question as to why they would want to do that for themselves, whether they are gender conforming or not.”
While many students feel that creating an environment that is casual with pronouns makes students who aren’t gender conforming feel more comfortable and accepted there are also students at LHS who believe that mandating that teachers ask students for pronouns or promoting the use of them on Zoom is an invasion of privacy as well as generally unnecessary. Barresi noted that sometimes conservative leaning people can be hesitant because “among younger people there’s the idea that it is affiliated with the LGBTQ+ community, ” and “I think it’s hard for people to realize that everyone has pronouns, even though we don’t go around saying it all the time.” Pronouns have also been ridiculed widely across the internet, and many students with liberal leaning views believe that this is insensitive. Barresi and other class officers who participated in the meeting took notice of this as well. Barresi says, “We were sort of afraid that it’d have a negative effect since we didn’t want anyone to rebel against the idea of pronouns, which may single them out more.”
As for the future of this initiative, the student officers will not be giving up. Barresi says “after the SFAC meeting, we met with some of the senior officers and put together a more encouraging email.” The class officers would also like to be able to meet with GSA to join forces on this issue, but he notes that COVID-19 has made it quite hard for scheduling times to work together. Barresi does add that there will be progress made very soon, and he says that “GSA [did] a whole curriculum and education-based presentation during professional development [on April 1],” where the use of pronouns [was] addressed.
Audrey Chasen, a sophomore at LHS who participated in this GSA-led portion of the professional development meeting says, “ahead of time we had the teachers submit questions, and a lot of them asked about pronouns.” She also notes that “a lot of teachers also asked about how to deal with someone coming out to you, and that led into the conversation about pronouns.” Chasen also observes the significance of acceptance within our school, and says, “In order to make their classrooms more inclusive, we asked teachers to put their pronouns in their Zoom name or in their email signature, and on welcome sheets at the beginning of the year.” A problem right off the bat was the confusion amongst staff about this initiative, but Chasen insures that “the feedback from the teachers was really great,” and “a few days after I was able to see some teachers putting their pronouns in their Zoom names and in their email signatures, so I definitely saw people taking those steps.”