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Students soon to be able to select their own pronouns in OPUS
group of diverse college students holding a flag

A new university policy empowers students to designate their pronouns within Emory’s student information system, creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

For more than 10 years, Emory students have had the option to designate their preferred name through the university’s official student information system, the Online Pathway to University Students (OPUS). Now, thanks to modifications within OPUS and a policy change effective this June, during PRIDE month, students will soon be able for the first time to designate their pronouns. Students will be able to make the change in OPUS prior to the start of the fall semester.

“This change was really driven by Emory students and their desire to help us be a better community,” says Christa Acampora, deputy provost for academic affairs. “A large group of people at Emory — including staff, administrators, faculty, and students — worked to shape the policy change and enable the systems to support its implementation. I’m truly grateful for all of those efforts.” 

Pronoun options include: He/Him/His, She/Her/Hers, They/Them/Theirs, Xie/Hir/Hirs and Ze/Zir/Zirs. If a student’s pronouns are missing from this list, the pronoun menu also offers the choice of “Pronouns not listed,” providing students the opportunity to enter the correct pronouns. Additionally, students can opt out of designating their pronouns altogether. Once a selection has been made, the pronouns, like chosen names, will populate in locations such as class rosters.

In keeping with best practices, the policy change comes after requests from students and the university’s desire to make campus more welcoming to students of all genders. Respect is also part of the equation for Dona Yarbrough, assistant vice president of Campus Life and a consultant to the Designated Pronouns implementation team.

“Our names and pronouns are essential to our identities, the most common ways we refer to one another,” she says. “When we call a person by the wrong name or pronoun, we risk causing them to feel disrespected. The traditional pronouns – she/her/hers and he/him/his – represent the traditional gender binary. We must update our language to reflect our appreciation of the range of gender identities and our respect for all people.”

“While students appreciate the culture of sharing their pronouns in other parts of campus, students and staff have advocated for years for a more centralized way of sharing this information,” says Danielle M. Bruce-Steele, director of the Office of LGBT Life and the Office of Belonging and Community Justice. “I look forward to the resulting conversations from this change and how they will push the university forward to even greater inclusion of our LGBTQ community members.”

According to Eric Weeks, associate vice provost for faculty affairs and director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE), the modification to OPUS is a welcome one — not only will it allow faculty to get to know their students better, but it will also create a more inclusive classroom.

“CFDE has been helping instructors learn inclusive teaching practices for many years, including using pronouns appropriately for everybody in the room,” Weeks says. In the coming weeks, CFDE will make new guidance regarding proper usage of pronouns available for faculty and staff.

The introduction of pronoun selection is part of a larger move on behalf of the university to further understand student identity. Later this summer, the Student Characteristics project will launch, providing options within OPUS to share data about gender and sexuality, first-generation status, military-affiliated status, religious/spiritual identity and ethnicity. More information about this project and related functions within OPUS will be shared in the coming month.

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