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Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn's Physics and Astronomy Department now lists gender pronouns on its website for some of its student, faculty, and staff members in an effort to combat stigma, encourage respectful communication, and promote the department's inclusivity.

The Diversity and Inclusion in Physics group initiated the project last semester with graduate students at the helm. In April, students and members of the department were emailed and given the option to submit their pronouns to be publicly shared on the website. 

The department has been updating its website to include the responses. Physics and Astronomy Administrative Coordinator Glenn Fechner, who manages the department’s website, collected people’s pronouns and added them to each individual biography.

Sophie Ettinger, a third-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in physics and a board member of DIP, had been a part of the initiative from the beginning. She said that she was partially inspired to support the push having seen websites from other universities and professional organizations that included pronouns. 

She said making individuals' pronouns accessible would promote respectful communication. Ettinger added the group aims to break down the stigma that only transgender or gender nonconforming people have preferred pronouns.

“Regardless of how you identify, whether you’re gender conforming, trans, nonbinary, [or] nonconforming, it’s so important to include pronouns in introductions in your emails [and] in your bio online,” Ettinger said. “It should just be a normalized thing that happens all the time, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

So far, 52 members of the department have their pronouns listed on the site, Ettinger added.

Stephen Hackler, a third-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in physics and a board member of DIP, also said the group hopes to promote inclusive communication and to streamline conversations.  

“When you’re communicating with people in a professional space, it’s important to do so respectfully,” Hackler said. “Having knowledge of what the other person’s gender pronouns are can smooth that out and allow these conversations to happen in a respectful and accurate way.”

Physics professor Andrea Liu, who decided to list her pronouns on the website, said she thinks the project was a good idea because physics can be a “province of white, heteronormal males.”

“If we really want to get the best talent in physics, we want to draw from all populations. I think the whole idea of this is to make physics more welcoming,” Liu said, adding that the introduction of pronouns on the department’s website can show that physics can be an inclusive field.

“We really want to show everyone who looks at Penn’s website that we are a diverse, open, [and] accepting community,” Ettinger said.