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Canvas update allows students to specify preferred pronouns

Canvas, the online learning platform Miami University uses, released an update this January that allows students to display their pronouns on their Canvas profile. The update, located in the Settings tab of Canvas, was adopted by Miami this fall after being implemented on a school-by-school basis across the country. 

Hannah Thompson, associate director of LGBTQ+ services at the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI), said several students contacted the CSDI to ask whether it would be an option at Miami. 

In order for the change to be made, there was an implementation process, an accessibility test and workshops in order to formally add it to Canvas. Thompson then worked with Miami faculty to disseminate information about the update to the campus community. 

“The whole process took about three weeks,” Thompson said. 

The change allows students to select from she/her, he/him or they/them pronouns. The update did not allow for an open-text box.

The update is intended to support transgender, nonbinary and genderqueer individuals, while at the same time incorporating and normalizing conversations about pronouns. 

“You’d be surprised as to how many people can’t honor people’s genders [or] pronouns,”  first-year Jackie Ang said.  

“Providing students access to pronouns is integral,” said first-year Business Economics major Evan Gates, who is involved with the diversity and inclusion committee in Associated Student Government (ASG). “It eases the burden of guessing.”

Other students noted their professors rarely asked them to specify their pronouns at the beginning of the school year. 

“I don’t think any of my professors did,” first-year Speech Pathology and Psychology major Grace Payne said. “I really, really want Miami to encourage people to use their pronouns.”

The change is aimed to make the classroom setting more comfortable for professors, too. 

Online school has created a barrier of sorts between students and professors, which naturally makes conversations more difficult. Knowing each others’ pronouns will hopefully help make online learning more personal and inclusive, said professor of history Amanda McVety. 

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Before the update, McVety, would rely on students reaching out to her or checking their email signatures — the change allows her to eliminate that “waiting period.” 

“You don’t have that community you normally do [in-person] … those little conversations where that information is often shared,” McVety said.

And that information is vital to ensure students can focus in class. 

“If someone is deadnamed (referred to as their birth name or a name they no longer use) or misgendered constantly,” Thompson said, “it can be really hard — hard to want to participate in class, hard to want to engage when you’re being read as something that you’re not.”

While it improves communication, the option also serves to normalize pronoun sharing and avoid singling anyone out. 

“So many trans folx have to share their pronouns,” said first-year Marketing major Madeleine Jue, emphasizing that cisgender students aren’t often expected to share that information.  

“Everyone has pronouns,” Thompson said. “It’s not just a trans or nonbinary issue.”