Skip to main content

Canvas feature allows individuals to select preferred names, personal pronouns

January 19, 2021 By Doug Erickson

Names and pronouns matter — they say a lot about who we are and how we want others to treat us.

Through a new feature in Canvas, UW–Madison students, faculty, and instructional staff can now choose the pronouns they want associated with their online profiles. (Preferred name use is already available in Canvas.)

Studio portrait of Gabe Javier

Gabe Javier

“It’s important that we are able to realize university-wide inclusive projects like this that help make the campus climate more welcoming for our students, ” says Gabe Javier, associate vice chancellor for student affairs in the areas of identity and inclusion, noting that the effort was made possible thanks to collaboration among Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost, and the Office of the Registrar.

Canvas is the digital platform used by the university to support teaching and learning. The Canvas technology is available for all UW–Madison courses and is utilized by most instructors.

The new voluntary option allows individuals to indicate how they would like to be referred to in class, in online discussions, or anywhere else Canvas displays names and/or pronouns. Step-by-step directions on how to use the feature are available here.

Thousands of colleges and universities utilize the Canvas learning management system. Instructors at UW–Madison use the digital platform to share course materials, post assignments, track student progress and distribute grades. Students can use Canvas for in-person, online, and blended courses to access course content, take quizzes, hold discussions, and work on group projects.

In Canvas, individuals can indicate that they want to be referred to by a name other than their legal name as listed on university records. One example would be a person who prefers to be known publicly by their middle name. Additionally, individuals can now choose from a drop-down menu of pronoun options. Those who opt into these features will see their chosen names and pronouns appear on Canvas anywhere their legal name appears, such as “Jane Doe (she/her).”

Warren Scherer, an assistant dean and director of the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, notes that pronouns are just as important as names when it comes to showing respect for each other.

“By respecting others’ pronouns, you recognize their sense of self and affirm the humanity of all members of our community, particularly transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and other gender diverse members,” says Scherer, whose pronouns are per/pers. “Using an individual’s pronouns correctly is a way to continue to practice inclusion and foster belonging at UW–Madison.”

It is becoming increasingly common on college campuses to offer pronoun choices. Of the 14 schools in the Big Ten Conference, a majority now offer the option, either through Canvas or a similar online learning platform. UW–Madison will become at least the ninth Big Ten school to do so.

“We’re pleased that Canvas now provides this option and we’re excited to be able to offer it to campus,” says Susan Sloan, enterprise system administrator with UW–Madison’s Division of Information Technology. “As an institution, this moves us more fully in the direction of supporting gender-expansive students and nonbinary communities, and it allows our students and instructors to state the names and pronouns that best represent who they are in the world.”

Javier noted that the university expects to review the list of pronouns offered in Canvas based on user feedback and will explore how to extend the feature to other university systems that have such functionality.

For guidance on how to use pronouns, visit the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center’s Pronouns Matter page.