Pronouns Matter

Pronouns are used in every day speech and writing to take the place of people's names. We frequently use them without thinking about it. Often, when speaking of someone in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.

Mistaking or assuming peoples' pronouns without asking first, mistakes their gender and can send a harmful message to that individual. Using someone's correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity. Join Gender & Sexuality as we aim to advance the knowledge of using everyone's correct gender pronouns and strive for inclusive excellence at Cal Poly.

What are Pronouns?

Pronouns are words that refer to either the people talking (like you or I) or someone or something that is being talked about (like she, they, and this). Gender pronouns (like he or them) specifically refer to people that you are talking about.

Using Gender Pronouns

People may choose to use a variety of pronouns. Below is a list of some commonly used pronouns and how they are used:

Personal Pronoun Sets
Subject Object Possessive possessive pronoun reFlexive
("He studied")
("I called him")


("His pencil")


("That is his")

("He trusts himself")
("She studied")
("I called her")


("Her pencil")


("That is hers")

("She trusts herself")
("They studied")
("I called them")


("Their pencil")


("That is theirs")

Themself or Themselves
("They trust themself/themselves")
Ze or Zie /zee/
("Ze/Zie studied")
Hir /heer/
("I called hir")

Hir /heer/

("Hir pencil")

Hirs /heers/

("That is hirs")

Hirself /heerself/
("Ze/Zie trusts hirself")

This is not an exhaustive list.  It is good practice to ask which pronouns a person uses.

Why is it important for Cal Poly faculty, staff, and students to respect gender pronouns?

The California State University's nondiscrimination policy includes protections for sex, gender identity (including transgender), and Gender Expression. A key element of creating a safe space for people of all sexes and gender identities is the respectful use of gender pronouns.

The Cal Poly Statement on Commitment to Community reads, "The Cal Poly community values a broad and inclusive campus learning experience where its members embrace core values of mutual respect, academic excellence, open inquiry, free expression and respect for diversity."

The Cal Poly Statement on Diversity reads, "At Cal Poly we believe that academic freedom, a cornerstone value, is exercised best when there is understanding and respect for our diversity of experiences, identities, and world views. Consequently, we create learning environments that allow for meaningful development of self-awareness, knowledge, and skills alongside attention to others who may have experiences, worldviews, and values that are different from our own."

The Mustang Way values set a clear direction for all members of the Cal Poly community to appreciate and celebrate differences in others, creating an environment of mutual respect, community, and responsibility to support other Mustangs. 

Asking Cal Poly community members what their gender pronouns are and consistently using them correctly is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity. This can determine within the first few minutes if they will feel respected at Cal Poly or not.

Discussing and correctly using gender pronouns sets a tone of allyship. It can truly make all of the difference, especially for new community members that may feel particularly vulnerable in a new environment.

You can't always know what someone's gender pronouns are by looking at them. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or hurt.

Many people may be learning about gender pronouns for the first time, so this will be a learning opportunity for the Cal Poly community. You will be setting an example for your colleagues.

How can I be inclusive in using and respecting gender pronouns?

Incorporate gender pronouns in everyday use, with these strategies:

Gender Inclusive Strategies
Strategy Example
Edit your email signature to include your pronouns.


Verbal introductions and check-ins are great opportunities to solicit gender pronouns. As names and pronouns can change over time, it is preferable to regularly incorporate these questions into meetings and introductions. Asking about a person's pronouns may initially feel awkward or uncomfortable, but it is preferable to making hurtful assumptions and using the wrong pronoun.
  • "How would you like to be addressed?"
  • "Can you remind me which pronouns you like for yourself?"
  • "My name is Joshua and my pronouns are he, him, and his. What about you?"
  • "How would you like me to refer to you?"
  • "What pronouns do you use?"
Avoid ostracizing language.
  • Avoid saying “masculine pronouns” or “feminine pronouns.”  Anyone of any gender may use any pronoun set.
  • Avoid saying “I don’t care” unless it is well considered
  • Avoid saying “preferred” because they are not preferences
Include your pronouns on your name badges and business cards.  Pronoun buttons are another great way to encourage sharing of pronouns within communities.


Example Name Tag with a space for pronouns at underneath "hello, my name is"


Pile of various pronoun pins


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