Getting pronouns right

By Dr. Armenta Hinton and Briana Legerlotz

At HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, we view inclusion and diversity as integral to the educational success and continued professional growth of every student and employee.

Belonging and inclusion are central to our focus. We have leaned into work by Dr. Terrell Stayhorn on cultivating a sense of belonging for students and employees. Strayhorn’s pivotal book, College Student Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students (Strayhorn, 2019), defines belonging as a basic human need; the feeling of being accepted, valued, respected and included in a group or community and that you matter.

Our college frequently incorporates “You Belong Here” messages to students, employees and the community. Many fellow colleges have recognized and embraced belonging messaging, too, as research and best practices lead colleges to better understand the conditions that optimize student and employee success.

But nice messages alone are not enough; we must back up those sentiments with action. We must demonstrate that we value the multiple and intersectional identities of our community.

Colleges, particularly community colleges that serve such a diverse array of the community and are rooted in an ethos of open access, have to be willing to acknowledge, confront and tear down real barriers to belonging. As we celebrate and reflect on this LGBTQ+ History Month, one example of breaking down barriers to belonging to make a tangible difference comes from our college’s work to embrace technology tools to help create a more seamless environment of belonging.

Pronouns and technology

To feel that one belongs and matters to their school community, having others address us by the name, gender and pronouns that we wish to go by is fundamental, especially for LGBTQ+ folks who often may experience othering based on their identity. Technology can help colleges more seamlessly set up inclusive environments from the start.

For instance, HACC utilizes Ellucian Banner as our core information system. Through a collegewide collaboration led by the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging and the Office of Information Technology and Learning Experience, HACC undertook a year-long project to implement Banner self-service features to streamline community members’ ability to indicate the name they wish to go by other than their legal name in their classes and college activities, to indicate pronouns and their gender identity.

Previous processes were very manual and limited, but embracing self-service features as well as a brand-new field to indicate pronouns is one step toward empowering students and employees to be able to engage authentically and on their own terms in our college environment.

Additionally, we felt that previous standard procedures lacked transparency and accessibility, so we developed guidance and how-to documents and made them available to constituents on both the HACC website and intranet. These supplemental documents serve as key go-to reference materials to clarify college policy and make instructions and resources more accessible to the college community, generating more transparency regarding sometimes complicated and nuanced information and processes.

An overall feeling of belonging

The timing of the project implementation last year works well with recent 2024 Title IX regulations which reiterated rights and protections for LGBTQ+ students and employees at colleges. At HACC, we are pleased with the outcomes of creating conditions of belonging and mattering for all community members. We believe that empowering members of our college community to change their name and share gender identity and pronoun information where possible contributes to a safer and non-discriminatory working and learning environment.

The benefits to our technology supporting use of non-legal name recognition, and identification of pronouns and gender identification are evident and we are seeing LGBTQ+ folks, international students who wish to go by an “Americanized” name, or folks who simply wish to go by a nickname, making increased use of these fundamental tools.

As we celebrate these successes, we seek to continue growing and pushing further. HACC will continue to follow through to improve on this work as technology platforms continue to evolve, ensuring we are taking tangible steps to promote sense of belonging and authentic mattering for all HACC community members.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.


Dr. Armenta Hinton

is the vice president of engagement, retention and inclusion and Title IX coordinator at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College.

Briana Legerlotz

is coordinator of equity, inclusion and belonging at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College.