Does canvas allow schools to let students type in their own pronouns?

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I am a student at a Texas university. In my user settings, I am allowed to choose between four personal pronoun options: "None", "She/Her", "He/Him", and "They/Them". I personally feel that these four options do not adequately reflect the diversity of gender identities and pronoun choices that are used today. I know that pronoun options are managed by my institution, and I would like to contact my school about adding an "Other (please specify)" option that would allow students to type in their pronouns if they do not see them already there. However, I am not sure if such functionality is even available on canvas, and I would like to confirm that it is, or beg that it be implemented, before I talk to my institution about it. So, my question is this: Is there a way that schools can allow their students to type in their own pronouns out, instead of the students choosing from an inexhaustive list? And if not, might y'all please add a feature like that?

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First, I'm speaking as an admin at a University so I don't have detailed insight into everything at Canvas.  But, I can let you know that the way the feature works is that a school can choose to have it turned or not, and a school can add to and edit the list of pronouns that are allowed.  There currently is not a feature which would allow an individual to enter their own pronouns.  At my school we've enabled the feature with the options:

  • She/Her
  • He/Him
  • They/Them
  • Ask me my pronouns

That last option doesn't let an individual enter pronouns, but instead simply indicates, "hey, ask me".  

I believe it was a little over a year ago that Canvas added this feature and more recently they've added the feature for a school to upload the pronouns in regular data feeds.  I know that a lot of schools are making changes in all of their systems so the idea of this last one is that a student could set their preferred pronouns in another system (such as the student information system used by your registrar) and then have Canvas display the same thing.  Being able to set something in one place and have it show in all systems is a good thing.

Regarding the ability of an individual to set their own pronouns; if a schools has their own system in place which allows people to set them, they should be able to use the data feed to also update it in Canvas.  So I guess I'm saying your school might be able to make that work with some tweaks on the backend.

I do want to share one last story though of why it may not happen and that is because people can abuse it.  I mean no disrespect in saying this because I am all in favor of people selecting their own pronouns.  But in the past with another system I used to manage like Canvas, it was set to let users change their names on their own.  The members of the basketball team all changed their names to their nicknames which in many cases were offensive words.  Beside being offensive, it also caused issues with teachers knowing who they were and posting final graded would have been a nightmare matching up people. Ever since then I've always been leery of letting people change their name on a system without some sort of oversight.  So in this case I'm not worried about someone entering their preferred pronoun, I'm worried about someone trying to be funny (or offensive) and putting in something which displays all over Canvas along with their name.

At my school we have talked about a method of allowing individuals to select from a list and make requests for additional pronouns to be added to the list if they would like them.  We aren't there yet, but we are hoping this will provide the ability for individuals to select and/or add their own pronouns, but with some oversight to prevent inappropriate text to be added.

I hope this helps explain some of it from at least one Canvas admin's perspective.  I suggest reaching out to your school to see what their plans are and to possibly help shape them as I know a lot of schools are trying to figure out the best way to respectfully provide this.

Rick Murch-Shafer

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