Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Pronouns Matter


A reminder to try to use a person’s preferred pronouns. This can help people feel more welcome and comfortable.

In the fall of 2022, students at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School were able to indicate chosen pronouns in the university directory and in the learning management system. Before the first day of a fall class, I noted that I had a student who used they/them. Despite knowing that, I didn’t pay careful attention to which student they were before I went into the classroom. The student was very engaged in class, and I spoke with them about a half dozen times in the first three-hour class. After class, I thought about my use of pronouns. I didn’t think I had used a pronoun to refer to the student, but, if I did, I knew I had not used they/them.


Before afternoon classes began, I emailed the student with an acknowledgment of the possible use of an incorrect pronoun. The student wrote back indicating that they did not think I had used any pronouns but that they appreciated my acknowledgment and my effort to use the correct pronouns moving ahead. They also noted that at that point, other faculty had not acknowledged their pronoun at all.


This experience stuck with me. Later that fall, after hearing about some fo the student’s other experiences, I wanted to help my colleagues (and others) reach a better understanding of the importance of pronouns. So, I suggested that my institution create a video to educate faculty about this issue. Here are a couple of highlights from the panel discussion on the video:


1. It’s good practice to share one’s pronouns when meeting an individual or group for the first time and invite (but not compel) others to share theirs.


2. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it as quickly as possible.


3. If you notice someone else misgendering someone through the use of an incorrect pronoun, a polite correction can help acknowledge the dignity of all involved.


This piece expresses the solely the views of the author, and no other institutions, including Johns Hopkins.