A Resource on Gender-Inclusive Language

The University of Pittsburgh is committed to supporting an inclusive and welcoming environment for all. The following guidelines are intended as a resource for our community to voluntarily use in their communication with their classmates and colleagues.

Using Inclusive Language

Advice for Classrooms and Other Spaces

Have you ever been called by a name or gender that you don’t identify with? Misgendering someone is disrespectful and dismissive. One way to misgender is to assume you know someone’s gender via their appearance and to call them a name or pronoun that they don’t identify with. Misgendering can also occur when you teach as if your entire class is male. The best practice is to use words daily with intention and care.

To avoid unintentionally creating a sexist and homophobic classroom environment, during discussions do not limit yourself to male examples or heterosexual examples. Teachers can and should honor the breadth of experience and potential in students’ lives by discussing women, gender non-conforming, and LGBT- identified people. For example, avoid giving examples that assume that all doctors are men.

The first day of class can be stressful for both teachers and students. Rather than beginning class by calling roll and potentially addressing a student by a name or pronoun that they do not use, here are some strategies for being inclusive on the first day: 1) Ask students to introduce themselves or 2) Ask students to write down names and pronouns.

Keep in mind that the University of Pittsburgh provides an option for affiliated students, faculty, and staff to provide their Chosen Name.  However, members of the Pitt community should be cognizant that they might see a discrepancy between names and pronouns throughout University systems. This may be due to an individual’s personal preference to include a chosen name and pronouns in one setting (such as a Canvas course) and not in another setting (such as Zoom) but it may also be due to a problem in cross-system synchronization. If you are unsure what name or pronoun set a colleague or student uses in a particular setting, ask! If you are experiencing an issue with your chosen name and/or pronouns not synchronizing across university systems, please contact the Transgender Working Group at tgwg@pitt.edu.

Provide your chosen name to University systems

Specify your pronouns in University systems

Who are pronouns for?

Everyone has pronouns and everyone gets referred to in conversation by pronouns.  Some of us are more used to thinking about our pronouns, because, as transgender, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming people, we tend to experience being misgendered more often. Specifying pronouns (during introductions, on a name tag, in your email signature, when using University systems like Canvas or Zoom...) is not just for trans people; it's a way for all of us to collaboratively build a safe and affirming learning environment where we don't assume we know someone's pronouns without them sharing that information with us.

Think about what it feels like to have your name routinely mispronounced. To address this issue, all members of the Pitt community are encouraged to use the NameCoach function to share a recorded pronunciation of their name. Not only does this make name pronunciations more accessible to everyone, it also creates an affirming University culture where everyone shares the pronunciation of their name, not just those of us who regularly experience our names being mispronounced.

Similarly, when everyone in the Pitt community shares their pronouns, it helps take some of the pressure off and spotlight away from those of us who regularly experience being misgendered. A transgender student who is the only person in her class to set her pronouns in Canvas might experience being misgendered less often because her pronouns appear right next to her name, but she may still feel singled out if her classmates don’t also set their pronouns. Consider specifying your pronouns in university systems even if you don't typically experience being misgendered -- it's a simple and meaningful act of solidarity with others.

Names and Pronouns in Practice

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind when meeting regularly with a group of people for a class or event: If you are not sure what name or pronoun someone uses, ask! Respect a person’s identity by calling them by the name and pronouns that they use. Keep in mind that a person’s gender identity may change over time. Be open to changes in gender pronouns.

You may slip up and use the wrong gender pronoun when referring to another person. This is expected when learning anything new to you. However, don't pretend you didn't use the incorrect pronoun. If you make a mistake, take accountability  for your error by correcting yourself before continuing your conversation. Everyone in the space will appreciate your effort. It is important to avoid lengthy or profuse apologies to the person whom you misgendered. These types of apologies can come across as centering your feelings about the event rather than taking responsibility through a simple apology and correction. Once you have done this, it’s best to move on and commit to do better the next time.

If it is your first time using unexpected pronouns for someone, it is important that you practice using their name and pronouns outside of conversations directly with them or about them. It is often obvious when someone doesn’t prioritize thinking about pronouns until the moment it is relevant in conversation. In order to learn something new, you have to practice. This can look like using sample sentences about that person in private to get accustomed to using their pronouns. Additionally, it can be helpful to broaden your media diet to include stories (I.e. movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc.) about people in the trans community which can help build a more natural trigger in your brain to be aware and hesitate before potentially misgendering someone.

We hope to foster a culture of inclusivity throughout the University of Pittsburgh. The best way to keep up with all of this information is to stay educated. Check out some of the resources below if you have questions or want to learn more.

Tools for Writing

Terms to Use to Avoid Sexist Language

Language to Use

Language Not to Use



chair or chairperson


first year student


lower division/upper division undergraduate*




colleagues, guests, all, yinz, friends, people, students, folks

ladies and gentlemen

omsbuds / ombudsperson


How to Use Gender-Inclusive Pronouns for Third Person Singular



possessive adjective

possessive pronoun












Example Sentences:

they (subject):

They love coffee!

ze (subject):

Ze loves coffee!

them (object):

I asked them to meet me in the library.

zim (object):

I asked zim to meet me in the library.

their (possessive adjective):

I read their book in my composition class.

zir (possessive adjective):

I read zir book in my composition class.

themselves (reflexive):

They taught themselves to play the guitar.

zirself (reflexive):

Ze taught zirself to play the guitar.

When writing and speaking, a good rule to keep in mind is to be consistent, intentional, and respectful when making language decisions. If you are writing about someone you do or don’t know (just as when you are talking to someone), use the same language that the person uses when naming or identifying themselves. You can default to "they/them” when you don't know the language a person uses for themself. However, once someone tells you that their pronouns are something besides "they/them,” continuing to use "they/them” in reference to that person can be a form of misgendering. Sometimes an individual might share that they use multiple pronoun sets. For example, "My name is Ely and my pronouns are she/her or they/them. It is important to check in with individuals about how they want others to refer to them and not assume.

Authored by: Dr. Julie Beaulieu (Lecturer II in GSWS), Susanna Deemer (Immigration Specialist, University Center for International Studies), Dr. Scott F. Kiesling (Professor, Department of Linguistics), Laura Nelson (Assistant Director, Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity).  Edited by: Carrie Benson, Stephanie Hoogendoorn, Jen Marco, and Claude Mauk.