Pronoun Privacy and Data Governance

Last updated: September 8, 2023
Audience: IT Staff / Technical

Pronouns are now editable in Identity.UW. 

Pronouns are now available in your MyUW profile and in MyUW Class Lists.

Identity.UW enables the collection and distribution of pronoun data that individuals have indicated for use by academic personnel, faculty and support staff to provide them with a welcoming and supportive experience at the UW.

Page purpose — This page describes the overall approach to pronoun data governance, collection, integration, and display to users; for pronoun data collected and distributed from Identity.UW.

Page audience — IT system owners and others who need to integrate and display pronoun data appropriately, and understand the overall approach to pronoun data collected and distributed from Identity.UW.

On This Page

Note: If you are looking for a definition of the UW pronoun data or to understand how to integrate this data into your systems, please refer to the Pronoun Data Definition & Integration guide.

Goals and purpose

Why does the UW collect pronoun data?

Sharing pronouns is a common part of introducing oneself, in person and online. By providing a central, online location to manage pronouns, Identity.UW supports several institutional goals related to pronoun use:

  • Enable respectful interaction — ensure people feel respected and welcomed at the UW for who they are.
  • Enable self-identification — ensure all members of the UW community can indicate pronouns aligned with the way their own self-identification or expression.
  • Ease pronoun adoption — help people learn the pronouns others go by, so they don’t assume pronouns based on name or appearance.
  • Normalize pronoun use — enable and support everyday norms of sharing and using pronouns.
  • Reduce pronoun misuse — enable respectful use of pronouns and recovery from accidental misuse.
  • Safety and responsibility — ensure that the UW community understands clearly who their pronouns will be shared with so that they can manage their own risk.

Together, these goals help the UW attract and retain a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff; cultivate a safer, more inclusive, and welcoming community that supports and affirms an evolving range of experiences, and expressions; and adopt pronouns in ways that build individual confidence and institutional trust.

What UW values apply to pronoun data?

The Data Governance Committees and Privacy Steering Committee foreground and balance several UW values in their governance decisions concerning the appropriate collection, distribution, and use of pronoun data:

  • Diversity — diversity is integral to our community; so we value and honor diverse experiences and expressions.
  • Respect — due regard and empathy for the basic dignity of others.
  • Integrity — use personal data according to UW guidelines and in a way that promotes trusted relationships with individuals.

Other values and principles that influence decisions include:

  • Privacy — principles that enable individuals to determine what information about themselves is communicated to others.
  • Identity — pronoun governance should embrace both continuity and discontinuity of an individual’s sense of self over time.
  • Autonomy — individuals should be able to decide, plan, and act in ways that they believe will help them to achieve their goals.

In applying these values and principles, the committees consider the needs and safety of people who share and use pronouns for all members of the community, as well as other stakeholders involved in the collection, distribution, and use of pronoun data.

Does Identity.UW replace other ways people share pronouns?

No. Although Identity.UW helps people share their pronouns with UW academic personnel, faculty and support staff, it isn’t the only way pronouns are shared. People may share their pronouns in other applications, email signatures, on buttons, ribbons, name tags, and table tents, as well as in person, conversationally. In general, people will continue to share pronouns outside of Identity.UW, publicly and privately, online and in real life, in pairs and in groups, and in all sorts of ways that work best for them. Note that some people may not want to share their pronouns using information technology systems at all, even if they share them in other settings.

Responsibility and advocacy

What UW governance practices apply to pronoun data?

UW data governance committees and the Privacy Steering Committee are the primary governance bodies and set of practice that applies to pronoun data collected through Identity.UW. Additional governance comes from IT governance, and the UW Diversity Blueprint. Graduate and Professional Student Senate Resolution 03.17-18 (Resolution Proposing Name Pronunciation and Pronoun Options on MyUW) is relevant as well.

Who decided the overall approach to pronouns on Identity.UW?

The approach to institutional use of pronoun data collected through Identity.UW involved input from the leadership of several UW major organizations, Faculty Senate leadership, as well as other UW community members with interest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Office of the University Registrar, Graduate School, Academic Personnel, Office of Research, Human Resources, UW Advancement, and UW Medicine provided input on behalf of their community members. The Q Center, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, and representatives from the Faculty Council on Gender Equity and Justice, the LGBTQ Caucus of Faculty/Students in Social Work, and the student-led UW Trans Collective also contributed leadership and expertise. The UW Privacy Office, in consultation with the Privacy Steering Committee, provided input on the appropriate collection and use of pronoun data.

Who are the data stewards for pronoun data?

Primary data stewards include:

  • The primary data steward is the UW Data Governance Operational Committee
  • Appropriate use of pronoun data is governed by the Privacy Steering Committee (reviewed spring 2022)
  • Business requirements for pronoun data are governed by the data governance committee (reviewed winter 2021)

Will the overall approach to pronouns change in the future?

The approach to pronouns could change in the future, based on feedback from the UW community, ongoing evolution of identity and expression through language, community best practices, the safety of the most at-risk community members, and/or standardization of related information technology. However, decisions to change approaches will be governed by the same institutional goals, values, and principles, as described above, which are more foundational and not as likely to change. Being intentional about institutional goals, and disciplined when applying our values and principles, creates the conditions for the UW to be both responsible for and responsive to the needs and feedback from the community. 

Rest assured that any future changes will be communicated well in advance to users of our UW Student and Person Web Services with time for feedback and deep consideration of potential impact.

Does my organization and/or system have to approach pronouns the same way as Identity.UW? Do we have to integrate and use the pronoun data managed in Identity.UW?

System owners and the organizations they represent are encouraged to approach pronouns in ways that promote diversity and inclusion, affirm self-expression, protect privacy and safety, and sustain institutional trust. 

Ultimately, as long as UW policy around proper usage of pronoun data is adhered to, decisions about integration and use are up to system owners and organizations: those with prior implementations of everyday pronouns may want to transition to use pronoun data from Identity.UW, and new implementations may want to adopt use from the start. In doing so, system owners can ease pronoun adoption, promote respectful use, reduce accidental misuse, and ensure feedback mechanisms are more holistic and consistent.

Applications who have different uses for pronoun data than allowed by UW policy around the Identity.UW pronoun data may collect pronoun data in their own systems. When doing so, it is critical to help users make informed decisions around managing the risks of sharing their pronouns by letting them know exactly who will have access to this data and how the data will be used.

Should official communications use the pronoun data from Identity.UW?

UW pronoun data may be used in official communications ONLY if the official communication is from UW academic personnel, faculty or support staff and is intended solely for the eyes of the individual who has shared their pronouns.

Additionally, official communications should follow UW and departmental guidelines, such as Communicating with an Equity Lens. The pronoun data from Identity.UW may or may not be fit for purpose in official communications. Decisions to use it should be based on intended audience, message content, and alignment with the intended use of the data for everyday use in the UW community.