Gender-Neutral Pronouns, Personalized Learning, and More

August 14, 2019


“When you’re one of the first people to get a seat at the table, you know that you are under scrutiny, cannot tell everyone’s story. You have to write from a place of truth and authenticity, and the more you do that, in a twist, the more universal your story will become.” — Ryan O'Connell, on representing sexuality and disability in the television series Special.


Previous research shows that traditionally gendered languages—like French and Spanish—are “associated with higher levels of sexist thinking.” So in 2015, Sweden formally adopted the gender-neutral pronoun hen as an optional alternative to the feminine hon and masculine han. Four years later, a new study designed by political scientists Margit Tavits and Efrén Pérez suggests that “using Sweden's new gender-neutral pronoun reduces the reflexive tendency to equate ‘people’ with ‘men.’”


Further, the study participants who used hen were more likely to be inclusive of women and LGBTQ people than those who used the masculine han. Tavits and Pérez say that these findings suggest that “language effects on cognition are real,” and that “adopting gender-neutral terms could help societies move toward higher levels of gender equality.”


The gender-neutral pronoun they has been used in reference to those who don’t identify as cisgender for years. But beyond being respectful of someone’s gender, Tavits and Pérez’s study raises an interesting question. Could gender-neutral language make the world more equitable for other marginalized people as well?

How It Affects You

It’s important to stay up-to-date on how identity terminology shifts and changes over time. Many of us already use gender-neutral terms to describe previously gendered job titles, like “firefighter” instead of “fireman” and “flight attendant” instead of “stewardess.” In your day-to-day work, consider replacing phrases like “he or she” with “they,” and think of how other phrases could be updated to be more gender-neutral—and possibly more gender-inclusive.


Personalized learning is a controversial concept: 39 states now include it in their school improvement plans, philanthropists are funding it left and right, and some families disapprove of it. But what is personalized learning? Penny Bishop, a researcher of learning environments, defines it as “everything from supplemental software programs to whole-school redesigns.” The goal is to give the student more control over their learning.

Two major kinds of personalized learning are pace-driven and student-driven. The former allows learners to move through an online curriculum at their own pace, while the latter allows students to have more of a say in what the curriculum actually is, based on their “goals and interests.”

However, some families complain that pace-driven personalization leads to increased screen time. And while student-driven personalization is more collaborative, traditional grading has been replaced by competency-based assessments, “which parents worry could affect their children’s chances of getting into their desired schools.” While it’s still too early to tell whether personalized learning will be successful in the long-term, research conducted by Bishop and her colleagues suggests that both students and teachers stand to benefit from the level of engagement inherent to personalized learning.

Our Take

We appreciate Bishop’s point that “thoughtful implementation can bolster students’ relationships with teachers, as well as with their peers, families and communities, by inviting learners to share their identities, curiosities and questions with others.” And we wonder how this increased level of understanding will enhance engagement with diversity.

How It Affects You

As more middle and high schoolers engage in personalized learning programs, all of us will feel the impact of this learning approach in coming years, not only in our own families but in higher education and the workplace, too. Begin thinking of how you can adapt your classroom or workplace to future generations, who may have vastly different ways of digesting and assessing information.


Andres Martin came up with the idea of hosting an HBCU Night after his boss at the Brooklyn Nets challenged him to come up with a theme night. In an effort to “reach and inspire the students from the lower socioeconomic demographic to give them an up-close, interactive experience of college fairs, admissions reps and panel discussions with executives,” the project quickly expanded to a cross-country tour of HBCU Nights.

HBCU students

Each HBCU Night features:
  •   “a Black college fair with HBCU admissions representatives;”
  •   an entry-level diversity and inclusion workshop;
  •   an “HBCU-to-executive panel discussion;”
  •   and a Black Excellence fundraising and networking mixer for alumni and other 21+ attendees.

Next steps include expanding the tour to Toronto and Africa. Martin says, “There are so many ways for an individual to step on campus, and find who they are, and pursue the kind of route they want to take [at an HBCU]. In comparison to attending a PWI, I felt more comfortable, more at home, and more involved.”


We’re thrilled to read that “72% of students who attended the Brooklyn stop went on to confirm their HBCU enrollment.” By making the benefits and opportunities intrinsic to HBCUs more visible, Martin is reducing the barriers to higher education for so many.

How It Affects You

What’s especially noteworthy about Martin’s HBCU Nights is that there’s an event for each age group, which builds community and increases the likelihood that participants will stay involved throughout the years. Consider how you can make diversity initiatives at your workplace or school more intergenerational.