Trans* Inclusion Committee releases “Communications Best Practices” guidelines

Jeongyoon Han

On Feb. 11, the Trans* Inclusion Committee (TIC) released a set of recommended guidelines titled “Communications Best Practices.” The best practices are a collection of suggestions that TIC has created for trans* and gender-variant inclusive language for in-person conversations and written exchanges.

TIC, which is housed under the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity and includes representatives from various offices at the College, rolled out the guidelines as part of its broader effort to create an “inclusive environment for trans* and gender-variant members of the Williams community,” specifically for institutional and procedural elements of the College.

Reference/Web Development Librarian Emery Shriver, co-chair of TIC with Assistant Registrar Amanda Turner, said that the recommendations also come in light of TIC recognizing communication’s impact in facilitating micro-aggressions towards those who are trans* or gender-variant. 

“A lot of what I would maybe call ‘micro-aggressions’ come not from intentional transphobia, but a lack of education, so we thought it was important for people to be aware of ways in way they can be inclusive,” Shriver said. “It’s kind of breaking the really entrenched formality of a school like Williams and opening people’s eyes to the different ways that they can, with a slight change, be that much more inclusive in how they’re communicating with people.” 

Turner said that such efforts are critical in allowing for a culture of “learning and asking” for the College community. Shriver also highlighted that giving individuals more agency in using pronouns or honorifics hits at issues of social norms at the College surrounding pronoun usage. 

“That’s what I think Williams has trouble with in general: being comfortable with not knowing, or being wrong, or being comfortable with discomfort,” Shriver said, referring to instances of misgendering people. “When somebody challenges you on your privilege, that’s okay. You should feel discomfort.”

Turner said that being more conscientious of the ways in which members of the College address others – in web content, invitations, emails, classroom settings or name tags – is a crucial step to creating an inclusive space for all people at the College. Releasing a list of practices was what TIC identified as a concrete objective that the Committee could achieve this fall. 

“[TIC] decided that this was something small, but very important, a nice step for creating inclusion,” Turner said.

The guidelines offer tips and suggestions for those in certain contexts. For example, instead of using binary gender honorifics – “Mr.” or “Ms.” – for individual or group communication, TIC suggests not using any honorifics, using an inclusive honorific, such as “Mx.” or asking people’s preferences. Other suggestions including making a habit to share pronouns, if willing, when introducing oneself, or giving people the option to list their name and pronouns as they prefer on name tags for in-person events. TIC spent the fall of 2018 collecting recommendations based on members’ own encounters with problems of incorrect pronoun usage in written or verbal communication. 

Many of the recommendations result from instances in which offices or departments at the College have misgendered people or used language that does not encompass trans* or gender-variant people. For example, Turner pointed out that some course descriptions in the Course Catalog and job descriptions posted online use only “he” or “she” pronouns. 

Turner, who is also the assistant registrar for the College, said the hope is that various offices at the College can use the recommendations to assess questions of inclusivity. Certain departments have begun to take such steps: The Registrar’s Office, PeopleSoft, GLOW and Office of Information and Technology have been cognizant of such considerations, with introduction for members of the College to list preferred campus names in 2017 and the option to list pronoun preferences in 2018.  

With these best practices and the release of the all-gender bathroom map on the College’s website, Shriver said the hope is to raise awareness of inclusion through aspects of College life that might go unnoticed for some. 

“We communicate with people at Williams in so many different ways – with parents, with alums, with students, with staff, with faculty,” Shriver said. “And there are a lot of things to consider, not just the one-on-one meeting somebody for the first time [scenarios] or introducing somebody. I think the [initiatives were] a way to move forward a little bit – the inclusive practices… Let’s take an extra step – not a huge step – but something that is accessible and that can, I think, make a big difference by just making small changes.”