I totally agree with Elizabeth Reis’s recent New York Times opinion piece, “Pronoun Privilege.” Reis points out that the “ice-breaking ritual” of having students say their Preferred Gender Pronoun (PGP) along with their names on the first day of class “is easy only for those for whom the answer is obvious. It can ‘out’ or isolate others, particularly those who are still considering their gender or who have just begun to transition.” As theatre and performance scholars, we are particularly tuned in to the performative aspects of the classroom. Students’ bodies and words exist in multiple networks of power and vulnerability, some legible to instructors and some not.
Thanks to my colleague Janet Werther, I used the index card method this semester in which students share a few things (the phonetic pronunciation of their names, their PGP, and two things they could let me know to help them succeed this semester). It de-dramatizes the issue so it is no longer a social performance for peers, which can be excruciating for some students and banal for others, which only serves to reinforce existing hierarchies.
In addition, the index cards become useful tools for me to foster engagement throughout the semester, which I’ll detail in another post.