The purpose of this resource is to:

  • Provide a brief overview of gender and schooling 
  • Discuss why becoming a more gender inclusive educator matters to students, faculty and staff 
  • Give recommendations and resources for creating a more gender inclusive classroom environment 

A (Very) Brief History of Gender and Education

Schools, from preschool to college, are major sites of gender normativity where students are supposed to perform according to the logic that male=boys/men=masculine and female=girls/women=feminine (Miller, 2019). At a young age, kids:

  • Are taught that their assigned sex (what doctors ascribe at birth) should match their gender identity (how one constructs their own vision of themself). 
  • are conditioned to attribute gender to skill sets, such as men are good at math. 
  • are often policed by their peers and teachers to abide by different gendered norms (e.g. to act like a boy or act like a girl).

Gender normativity follows them through middle school, high school and higher education. Dormitories, sororities, fraternities, bathrooms, social groups and dating culture are all spaces where gender normativity is maintained. It is also maintained at the level of the classroom through gendered language, textbooks that feature gender normative subjects and in-class references/examples that reinforce the outdated notion that there are only two genders (Niccolazo, 2017). Gender normative constructs or examples in class also commonly assume that everyone is heterosexual. 

Gender normativity is problematic for everyone in the sense that it can constrain anyone from having the freedom to be comfortable as themselves. Believing that there are only two assigned sexes disregards those who are born intersex. Believing that there are only two genders or that gender is attached to an assigned sex also leaves little room for flexibility when it comes to the different ways one inhabits a body and performs gender. It means that everyone has to follow a script that they did not write for themselves. For some, these scripts may be easy to follow.  For others, these scripts are a form of violence that prevents them from being their true selves. The ease with which one can follow a script is a sign of privilege (Miller, 2019).

Moving Beyond the Gender Binary

At Lafayette College, there are a plethora of students who identify beyond the two categories of man and woman (e.g. non-binary), who do not ascribe by the gender that relates to their assigned sex (e.g. transgender) or who do not ascribe to a gender at all (e.g. agender). There are also a number of students who have experienced different forms of gendered violence as a result of gender stereotypes. This includes cisgender individuals or those whose assigned sex matches their gender identity. For example, cisgender women who leave STEM fields because they do not feel as though women belong, do so because of gender stereotypes that come from the gender binary. 

Achieving gender justice in the classroom and beyond means breaking with the gender binary and assumptions around gender. It will take effort, and it is likely that mistakes may be made, but taking strides forward will improve the personal and professional lives of students, faculty, and staff here at Lafayette College. The following sections have actionable steps educators can take to create a(n) (a)gender inclusive and trans-affirming environment.


Attend a SafeZone Training

a leopard in rainbow colors reading "safe zone" as the logo

This resource in and of itself is not able to cover everything that you need to know about being a(n) (a)gender-inclusive and trans-affirming educator. SafeZone training, offered here at Lafayette College, is a deeper and more thorough orientation to sexuality and gender topics. Students at Lafayette look for the SafeZone placard (a rainbow leopard) and see it as a sign that their professor is a burgeoning ally to the LGBTQ+ community at Lafayette College. 

Learn about the use of pronouns

According to Merriam-Webster, pronouns are “any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose referents are named or understood in the context.” Some pronouns do not signify a specific gender (I/you/we/they) but others do (she/her/hers or he/him/his). Educators use pronouns everyday. 

Become an inclusive educator by acknowledging and using the pronouns that students want their professors to use. This used to be called “preferred gender pronouns” or “PGPs.” However, “preferred” implies that it is something that someone does not need all the time and so instead of preferred one can simply say, “What are your pronouns?” when asking students and colleagues what pronouns they use. 

Common singular pronouns with links for using them correctly: 





No pronouns (just refer by name)

Don’t call roll and make space for introductions and change throughout the course

On the first day of class, educators can introduce themselves by using their names and pronouns and by inviting students to share their names and pronouns with one another. Feel free to make a game that encourages students to learn each other’s names and pronouns. 

Everyone is on a gender journey so referring to one’s name and pronouns intermittently sets a good example for students. 

Educators can also clearly state that students should reach out if anything changes throughout the course of the semester and that you will heed their guidance on whether or not they would like to share this information with the class. 

In the syllabus


First and foremost, look at the language in the syllabus. If there are phrases that recreate the gender binary such as “his/her” change it to be more inclusive. “They” can be used as a singular pronoun in “his/her”s place. Put pronouns next to your name and contact information as well.  

Gender Identity and Expression Clause

Example: This class seeks to include and affirm all gender identities and gender expressions. Everyone is on their own gender journey and so I do not assume to know your gender identity based on your gender expression. At the beginning of the semester we will introduce ourselves and give each other our pronouns. Respect each other’s pronouns and names as they are an essential part of one’s identity. If you make a mistake and misgender someone, say you are sorry, use the correct pronoun and move on. If you would like to change your pronouns or name throughout the semester, feel free to let me know and whether or not you would like the class to know. 

Closest Gender-neutral Bathroom

Explore the building and the buildings next door to find out where the closest gender-neutral bathroom is located. Indicate this location on the syllabus. 


Look through syllabus content and consider:

  • including academics who identify beyond the gender binary and/or as transgender
  • including content that includes gender non-conforming and/or transgender individuals 
  • including inquiry based lessons that encourage students to centralize and explore social justice issues around gender
  • changing word problems or scenarios to include different pronouns and genders 

Queering The Curriculum

Queer is both a reclaimed term (for some) and an academic term. In academia the phrase “queer your curriculum” indicates two things (Ahmed, 2006; Keenan, 2017): 

  • It pushes us to include gender identities in our content that defy both sexual and gender norms. 
  • It “disrupts the order of things” and calls into questions processes like how we measure, assess, use and assign sex/gender in our own fields. Here is an excellent example of researchers in the biological science who reconceptualized common practices to better account for sex and gender. 

Looking at content and curriculum in queer ways helps to identify some of the disciplinary structures in courses that keep students and educators from understanding a wider range of people and experiences. Here are some questions educators can ask themselves and encourage students to ask as they engage in course materials:

  • Does this study include (a)gender embodiments beyond men and women? Why or why not? What are the limitations? How could we make this study better or different? What would we have to do?
  • Do we assume the people in this text are heterosexual or gender-normative? If so, why? If not, why not? Are there queer potentials in this text or places where characters/subjects do not abide by the norm? 
  • Where did some of the core vocabulary of our field come from? How does that vocabulary reinforce different gender norms? How can we change this? What do we need to include? 
  • Who produced our field of study? What kinds of perspective did they have? How might this perspective impact the production of the field? How can we change this? What different lines of inquiry can we take? 


Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 

Keenan, H.B. (2017). Unscripting Curriculum: Toward a Critical Trans* Pedagogy,  Harvard Educational Review Vol. 87 No. 4. Pg. 538-556. 

Miller, sj. (2019) About Gender Identity Justice in Schools and Communities. New York, New York: Teachers College Press.  

Nicolazzo, Z. (2017). Trans* in college: Transgender students’ strategies for navigating campus life and the institutional politics of inclusion. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Useful Links

Unscripting Curriculum: Toward a Critical Trans Pedagogy

Why transgender college students deserve equal protection

Transgender Students in Higher Education – Policy Study and Stats

Comprehensive Model Policy for Four year Institutions for Trans* Students

Why Trans* Students Matter

Ask Me: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know