Canvas, the university’s learning management system, at Pittsburg State University now allows students to display their pronouns on their profile and in virtual classes and students and alumni are showing positive reactions to the feature addition.
The distinct feature was added into Canvas in Jan. of 2020 and according to Canvas staff is controlled via administrator access. Colleges throughout the United States that use Canvas have begun implementing more freedom in this area since the COVID-19 pandemic and the more widely used hybrid or completely online course delivery method.
“This is a feature that has been heavily requested in the community (Canvas community) for years, something that’s on a list of features we’ve been wanting to get to for a long time but haven’t been able to address because of other priorities that always seemed to win in the constant balance of needs and resources,” said Matt Meservey, director of product management for Canvas. “…Canvas has always had the ability for users to edit their names in their profiles, so they could add a personal pronoun there, but that wasn’t what people were really asking for. This was not directly about changing how their name was displayed… I found out that (pronouns) was less about being able to add a pronoun to a student’s name and more about creating a space where it was safe to do so.”
Meservey also said that “traditionally gendered students” were also expressing interest in the feature.
“Some students have the fear of using pronouns incorrectly, or not knowing how to proceed, and they expressed a need to know how to use gender pronouns,” Meservey said. “Additionally, (they) expressed some relief in knowing how they could use pronouns, especially in the fast moving and often transient environments of schools and classes without offending people…”
According to junior in music education Fayelyn Kmiec, this feature is about “normalizing” this for everyone.
“It’s a big step, especially for this area because it’s predominately conservative,” Kmiec said. “It’s a step in the right direction towards acceptance. I’ve had friends who have graduated from here (Pittsburg State) that have been ridiculed for being (transgender) or nonbinary or just being any part of the LGBT community.”
Kmiec also pointed out that everyone uses pronouns regardless of whether someone is cisgender (corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth), transgender (corresponding to a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth), or nonbinary (an umbrella term relating to gender identity that is not defined in terms of traditional binary gender).
“I’m happy that we have this now, but it also makes me sad, because we should have had this earlier,” Kmiec said. “If I would say something to everybody as a whole, go ahead and use it (the feature to display pronouns), even if you’re not trans. Just put your pronouns in your bio that you write for social media, for Canvas… You can show solidarity with those people that have been ridiculed…”
Other students have shown support as well such as BJ Brannon, senior in communication.
“I am glad that PSU made this change because it allows us to be able to express these more important aspects of ourselves,” Brannon said. “… I would say this: PSU has more work to do… They can do more to support (clubs) Prism and SAGE on campus and promote workshops on inclusivity and equity. This is only the first of hopefully many steps in the right direction.”