Preferred means to have a favorite. It seems optional. For example, I prefer Milky Way over Hershey’s, Dr. Pepper over Coca-Cola and mint chocolate chip over rocky road, but really, I’ll take anything.
It implies that a person has a couple options to choose from, but to be flexible in their opinions. Saturdays over Sundays, fall over winter.
But never the comfort of others over identity.
As professors become more aware of the different aspects that encompass modern students’ identities, they commonly ask, either on Google Docs or through email confirmations, for a student's preferred name, major and their preferred pronouns.
However, this kind of language that encompasses students changing their names and pronouns seems to suggest a student's identity is preferred and not required. Professors at the University of Texas should remove the word “preferred” when it comes to asking for a factor of the student’s self.
“Preference is great when you’re giving somebody a lunch order,” Sofia Ostrowski, a youth and community studies junior who uses they/them pronouns, said. “But it’s not great when you’re talking about a human identity.”
Ostrowski expressed annoyance at how frequently they see the legitimacy of their identity undervalued by teachers, intentionally or not.
“I know personally I get irritated when I see that ‘preferred’ in front of pronouns on any sort of application or form because it’s just kind of like passively acknowledging who I am, but not wholeheartedly doing so,” Ostrowski said.
When students see the blank line where they’re supposed to put their pronouns, they are aware the teachers are making an effort. Professors understand that for some, their physical appearance doesn’t match what society would think their pronouns are.
But educators in positions of power need to understand that just one adjustment isn’t enough. To be responsive to the needs of the student is part of their responsibility as professors.
“It’s our job as educators, and I’m speaking as a future educator, to be consistently flexible with the changes that are being asked of us,” Ostrowski said. “If people are talking and they’re saying ‘We don’t like the way that this is being used,’ then we need to change that a little bit. There needs to be some sort of adaptability.”
Liz Elson, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center Center who uses she/they pronouns, also recognized that especially during this past school year, professors have had a lot on their plate.
“It's really easy to get sucked into the very first things that you learn and let it be all that you ever learn about a topic,” Elsen said. “But I would hope that professors, in the spirit of education and continual learning, will know that language is fluid and it changes over time.”
They expressed that allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, whether it be student or professor, should be leading the way in awareness of the various factors that subtract from the legitimacy of any kind of queer identity.
“It's really helpful for people whenever they have privilege to ... lead the way,” Elsen said. “We're like, ‘Hey, this is something that you can do that will make your (students or) classmates' day just a little bit better.’”
Professors should stay away from using “preferred” in front of the words “pronouns” or “name” when asking students about the elements of their identity.
Both students and faculty need to recognize that language is fluid, and the practitioners of said language should be more than willing to make someone’s identity a reality instead of a preference.
Gomez is a journalism freshman from Lewisville, Texas.