Creating gender affirming learning spaces

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Classrooms are often key sites of expanding students' knowledge and perspectives. And we know from research that the climate of a learning space has a direct impact on student learning and development (Ambrose, 2010). Psychological safety is vital for successful learning experiences, however, this safety is at risk when LGBTQIA2S+ identities are not intentionally considered in the classroom environment.

We offer the following recommendations to the campus community—inspired by equity-focused teaching from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at U-M—as better and promising practices in support of affirming learning spaces.

Referring to students

  1. Use the name and pronouns a student asks you to use.
    • Describe these as simply, name and pronouns. The qualifier of “preferred” suggests that these are optional.
    • Make sure your roster displays the student’s chosen name and pronouns, which can be set in Wolverine Access (see this page for more information on that process)
    • Don't describe a person's legal name as their "real" name.
  2. Don't assume honorifics such as Ms. and Mr. when calling on students.
    • Allow students to self-identify their honorifics, and ensure to also include Mx. as an option. “Mx.” is pronounced “mix” or “mixter” and is commonly used by gender nonconforming, nonbinary, agender, and genderqueer individuals.

Classroom management tips and tricks

  1. Instead of reading off students’ names for roll call, ask students to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns. We encourage you to introduce yourself and your pronouns first! 
  2. You may also encourage students to write their name and pronouns on name cards. These name cards or “table tents” can be set on their desk.
  3. It is important to encourage and normalize the practice of sharing pronouns, yet we never want to force folks to share their pronouns.
  4. If someone makes a mistake and misgenders someone, we encourage you to remind the class of the proper pronoun in a simple, straightforward way. For example, if a classmate says, “yes, I agree with his point.,” you can respond by either saying “their point,” or “okay, so you agree with their point, what specifically about their point do you agree with?” As a gentle reminder, you are the professor in the classroom, meaning you have significant power to dictate norms. Use this responsibility to uplift your students.
  5. Refer to the class as a whole using gender-inclusive language such as “students,” “everyone,” “you all,” “folks,” or “y’all.” 

For more resources on these topics, please refer to our pages about Pronouns and Demographics. 

Curricula and syllabi

  • Do not assign students to attend LGBTQIA2S+ student organizations’ meetings.
    • There are many campus events and virtual resources that center LGBTQIA2S+ identities and communities.
  • Share these opportunities with your students instead of pointing them to LGBTQIA2S+ student groups.
  • Ensure that when relevant and feasible, incorporate LGBTQIA2S+-related information, history, notable contributors, and theories into the curriculum.  
  • In discussions and lectures, be aware of and push back against LGBTQIA2S+ stereotypes. 
    • Strive to be aware of transphobic/homophobic biases present in authors/theorists and be able to discuss how these views affect their work. 
    • Related, do not assume that LGBTQIA2S+ students can speak on behalf of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. 
  • Disrupt bias and harm when it occurs in your classroom. We encourage you to attend  a Spectrum Center workshop to build upon bystander intervention skills.
  • Include your name, pronouns, and contact information on the syllabi. 
  • For the syllabi, include a statement regarding name/pronouns and ability to change these as needed. For example:
    • “Name and Pronoun Policy: All students deserve to be respected and properly referred to throughout this course. Students may have a name that is different from what is recorded on legal documents or school identification, therefore, I will provide the opportunity for students to share the name and the pronouns they use. If you would like to change your name, you can do that through Wolverine Access. Your gender marker can be changed by filing a request through the Office of the Registrar ([email protected] or 734-647-3507). Further information about U-M’s record change policies can be found at: I will do my best to respect students by using the correct name and pronouns for them. Please reach out to me at any point if you need me to update your name and/or pronouns.”

Respecting boundaries

Avoid making assumptions about students’ identities. When getting to know your students, don't guess about a student’s sexuality, pronouns, marital/relationship status, and/or the gender of their partner(s). Ask open-ended questions and allow students to share their identities and experiences on their own terms.

Be self-aware about potentially invasive questions to satisfy personal curiosity. For instance, if a student has disclosed they're trans, that alone is not an invitation to ask about gender-affirming care, such as hormones or surgery, or their sexual experiences.


More on equity-focused teaching

Equity-focused teaching is defined as: a corrective tool that allows instructors to acknowledge and disrupt historical and contemporary patterns of educational disenfranchisement that often negatively impact marginalized and minoritized students. It recognizes that systemic inequities shape all students’ individual and group-based experiences of social identity and produce vastly different relationships of power in and outside of the classroom, which impact students’ learning and success. 

The corrective work of equity-focused teaching involves deliberately cultivating a learning environment where students:

  • Have equal access to learning.
  • Feel valued and supported in their learning.Experience parity in achieving positive course outcomes.
  • Share responsibility for the equitable engagement and treatment of all in the learning community.

Learn more from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.