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UMass event raises pronoun awareness

  • Crystal Nieves, assistant director at the University of Massachusetts Stonewall Center, talks to visitors to her table at the Lincoln Campus Center about pronouns for International Pronouns Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crystal Nieves, assistant director at the University of Massachusetts Stonewall Center talks to visitors to her table at the Lincoln Campus Center about pronouns for International Pronouns Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hillary Rathbun, left, assistant director for programming at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center, talks with Stonewall Center Assistant Director Crystal Nieves at an information table that Nieves was staffing at the Lincoln Campus Center for International Pronouns Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pronoun buttons are displayed at a table in the Lincoln Campus Center at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The University of Massachusetts Stonewall Center set up an information table at the Lincoln Campus Center for International Pronouns Day on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Lincoln Campus Center. Photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hillary Rathbun, right, assistant director for programming at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center, talks with Stonewall Center Assistant Director Crystal Nieves at an information table she was staffing at the Lincoln Campus Center for International Pronouns Day, Wednesday, in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2018

AMHERST — Earlier this year, Genny Beemyn saw a friend from the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland post on Facebook that their campus was celebrating “Pronouns Day” this year.

“I said, ‘Huh that’s interesting,’” said Beemyn, the director of The Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I want to do that at UMass.”

Beemyn and Shige Sakurai, who heads the LGBT Equity Center at the University of Maryland, together co-chaired what they say is the inaugural International Pronouns Day, meant to raise awareness about sharing and respecting personal pronouns. The event has been endorsed by more than 100 college offices and organizations, with workshops and outreach happening in more than a dozen countries, according to Beemyn.

“We decided, ‘Why not make this bigger than just our two campuses?” said Beemyn, who uses the pronoun they. Beemyn said that when people use the wrong pronouns for someone, that person can feel invisible and marginalized. “I get misgendered all the time. People might see me, might hear me and assume one set of pronouns… Nobody bothers to actually ask me how I identify.”

In the Campus Center on Wednesday, The Stonewall Center set up a table to talk with people, hand out International Pronouns Day buttons and literature, and to help students officially register their pronouns in the university’s system. UMass Amherst is one of the first colleges where students can officially record their pronouns with the university, making them available to faculty and staff. 

“What we’re trying to do is really get folks talking about pronoun inclusiveness on this campus and pronoun etiquette,” assistant director Crystal Nieves said during a break from tabling in the Campus Center. 

One tip Nieves shared for pronoun etiquette is to share your pronouns with someone when introducing yourself. That gives someone space to share their own pronouns if they feel like it, she said.

Nieves said she had already had lots of good conversations with everyone from students to people visiting campus for conferences in the building. She said most people were supportive of the idea of sharing pronouns, even if they didn’t get it at first.

“Usually I’d have a lot more pushback than I’m getting now,” said Nieves, who has previously done similar work at college campuses she used to work on in Connecticut.

Nieves was at a table with second-year student Artemis Duffy, 19, of Washington, D.C.

“I do enjoy the amount of enthusiasm people seem to have around being inclusive,” he said of his conversations with people thus far. 

If the practice of asking about pronouns becomes more normalized in everyday conversation, it won’t be something that people in the transgender community have to do, Duffy said. 

“We can shift the culture,” he said. “It’s just a cultural movement at that point.”

By allowing students to input their pronouns into the university’s digital system, professors are able to see them in course rosters and avoid misgendering students, Duffy said, adding that professors normally respect a student’s pronouns if they bring it up, but professors don’t themselves usually bring it up.

“It’s not a big thing,” Beemyn said of sharing pronouns as part of a normal introduction, just as a person would share other information like their name and where they are from. “But it is big for some of us who frequently get misgendered, because people are making that assumption.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.