Evergreen is removing pronouns from narrative student evaluations.

Inclusive Teaching Tip | Spring 2021 WK 9

For this week’s Inclusive Teaching Tip, we are boosting this recent announcement from our Academic Deans.  

Why is this an equity practice?

When we write about student work using pronouns, we risk unintentionally misgendering students.

In 2017 The Chronicle interviewed Dr. Z Nicolazzo who at the time was an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Northern Illinois University (and is now Associate Professor of Trans* Studies in Education at the Center for the Study of Higher Education and a member of the Trans* Studies Initiative at the University of Arizona). In this interview Dr. Z gave the following advice about the use of pronouns:

The thing that is probably most important to me is that we stop making assumptions and stop putting gendered pronouns onto people. I tell students and peers all the time, there are lots of different ways to talk about people without using their pronouns, because we all have names, right? Or we can ask the question, What are your proper pronouns? And some folks will say, Oh, that’s kind of awkward, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s far more awkward when you misgender someone, especially in public places.

Gardner, L. (2017, February 22). Thinking Beyond Best Practices to Achieve Gender-Inclusive Campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Narrative evaluations are part of the students’ transcript. Thus, these transcripts will be read by employers, graduate admissions officers, scholarship committees, and many others. Multiple studies have shown that implicit gender bias has an impact on how one’s performance and potential gets coded in professional settings.

For example, Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio’s 2017 article in Harvard Business Review illustrates the how gender bias influences performance reviews:

In this study, I found that these biases can lead to double standards, in that­­ a situation can get a positive or a negative spin, depending on gender. In one review I read, the manager noted, “Heidi seems to shrink when she’s around others, and especially around clients, she needs to be more self-confident.” But a similar problem —­­ confidence in working with clients —­­ was given a positive spin when a man was struggling with it: “Jim needs to develop his natural ability to work with people.”

Cecchi-Dimeglio, P. (2017, April 12). How Gender Bias Corrupts Performance Reviews, and What to Do About It. Harvard Business Review.

So, as you write narratives that describe and evaluate a students’ work in your course or program, support students by using names instead of pronouns. The recent announcement offers a couple of “fake evaluations” that serve as useful models.

…and for additional advice on writing narrative evaluations, check out this Inclusive Teaching Tip from Fall 2020.

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