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Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

OPINION: The lack of a comprehensive name-change policy is detrimental to transgender students

Lynn Jafarzadeh / Hilltop Views
Junior Marc Taylor has been pushing for a chosen name system since his freshman year, founding St. Edward’s Trans Wellness Organization in the process. He hopes by the time he graduates next spring systems and procedures are fully implemented, easily allowing students to use chosen names at St. Edward’s wherever legal names are not required.

One of the greatest aspects of St. Edward’s University is our community’s encouragement for everyone to be themselves: All identities are welcome. For the transgender community, this is everything. It creates a safe environment for trans people to be themselves, that they might not have outside of St. Edward’s. With that being said, I see one big problem: You can’t change your name on the school roster and other internal documents without a legal name change.

I’ve made many friends during my first year on the hilltop, some being other members of the trans community. One friend I met last semester I now share a class with. On the first day of class, the professor took attendance using the class roster, and I learned their “deadname” as a result.

A “deadname” is a term used to refer to a transgender person’s birth name that they no longer go by. For trans people, the use of that name can be a source of discomfort because it often doesn’t align with their sense of identity. 

This professor has a very supportive policy of asking students to voice if they have a preferred name other than the one on the roster, and at no other point in the semester has that friend’s “deadname” been said in that class. It is not inherently the professor’s fault that they said my friend’s “deadname” on the first day of class.

But it shouldn’t have been said to begin with.

Every semester, trans students including myself, have to go through the discomfort of having to hear names that aren’t ours (or attempt to notify professors before the first class in the hopes that they are enough of a workaholic to check their emails before the first day of class and not too busy to remember the name of someone they haven’t even met). 

This isn’t the only time transgender students on the hilltop have issues with use of preferred names. There have been instances of trans students’ packages being sent back because it has their chosen name. The mail room sends back packages that don’t have the name the student is enrolled as; no exceptions. While this is a good security policy, the lack of flexibility is to the detriment of trans students living on campus. My friend wanted to send me a birthday gift, but he couldn’t send it to me at St. Edward’s because he didn’t know my dead name, and I didn’t want to tell him. I shouldn’t have to. 

On Canvas, a non-enrollment display name can be set by the student. However, historically there have been instances where the site doesn’t show the student’s display name to other users. This specific issue is likely the fault of Canvas as a program and not St. Edward’s, but, if possible, allowing students to actually change their Canvas roster name, rather than just a display name, would address this problem. 

A method for students to change the first name on the class rosters and any other place that does not legally require a legal name would erase the aforementioned biannual headache associated with the first day of classes and similar scenarios. It would remove the burden placed on individual students and professors to prevent students from being deadnamed. In other scenarios, like with student IDs or on packages, transgender students could finally avoid the discomfort of seeing their deadnames without requiring a legal name change.

In 2021, as a result of pushes among student leaders and conversations with the President’s Advisory Council for a Respectful, Inclusive Community, the university wrote a name change policy and administration began work on a project to implement a name change system, a massive undertaking.

OSBIE, Registrar, OIT and others have collaborated on the project to make changes in recent years, allowing students to use preferred names more often. For example, the displayed name for student’s emails can be changed by emailing Erica Zamora, the director of Office of Student Belonging and Inclusive Excellence, with a request. However, this information isn’t well known among the student body. Little direct communication with the student body has been made both about these resources trans students can use and the status of the project. 

Behind the scenes, while a name change policy has already been written, the details of the policy are not yet public information and a system to enact the policy is still in the works. Through meetings with stakeholders, a list of needs for a comprehensive name change system was created along with a written plan to meet those needs. However, after rounds of feedback with faculty, Student Government Association and leaders in staff council it was clear the project needed revision. 

“There was a bunch of feedback,” Zamora said. “Some of it was things that we really needed to go back to the drawing board for.” 

As a result, work on finalizing an accessible, easy set of procedures to add a preferred name on student IDs, class rosters and in other internal documents has stalled in the past year.

“We have realized that (the project) did stall a lot more than we thought it did,” Zamora said. “Life gets wild, there’s a lot of competing priorities.”

As a part of Strategic Plan 2027, one goal is to “build a culturally inclusive and aware community that fosters diversity, equity and justice in the Holy Cross Tradition.” As a way to track progress, St. Edward’s considers the achievements of peer institutions. For Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice specifically, we aspire to the achievements of Adelphi University, Xavier University, Loyola University New Orleans, Elon University and Goucher College, all of which have chosen name policies and procedures so that students can submit chosen names to the school which are then used for class rosters, programs like Canvas, student IDs, etc. Following in these institutions footsteps by fully implementing a preferred name policy would be a great stride for the university. 

In the last year work towards a better name-change system has been unintentionally deprioritized. However, increased push from students, faculty and within administration make it clear that this project is something the St. Edward’s community cares about. It’s clear continuation of this project is essential to the quality of life of many students here on campus. I hope in the upcoming semester the project once again becomes a priority of the university.

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About the Contributor
Lynn Jafarzadeh, Illustrator
Lynn is a freshman and this is his first semester working as an illustrator with Hilltop Views. Alongside illustrating, Lynn also dabbles in hard news reporting and writing opinion articles about topics they are passionate about.

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