BY KATHERINE BAUER
Students will soon be able to change the first name that appears on a number of Drake platforms, from their email address to their student ID card.
The student preferred name policy is expected to be implemented in the coming weeks, says Director of Student Engagement, Equity and Inclusion Tony Tyler. The policy has been a long time coming.
“When I came here (over five years ago), it was already being discussed as a theme that should be happening,” Tyler said. “There have been discussions here about it for years.”
The new policy, which ended its public review period last week, will allow all students to submit the first name they would like to appear on non-legal documents and other platforms. This includes ID cards, residence hall rosters, Blackboard, MyDUSIS, class and advisor lists and email addresses. While any student can take advantage of it, the policy takes a step to make Drake more inclusive for students in the LGBT community, more specifically transgender students.
“When you hear that name you were given at birth, a lot of people can really feel alienated or feel really uncomfortable correcting their name in front of the class,” Rainbow Union President Ann Radtke said.
“My name feels neutral enough that I don’t feel the need to change it,” said Paxton Gillespie, One Voice President. Gillespie is a transgender woman, identifying as a woman but assigned a male identity at birth. “But for a lot of people (for example) who identify as men but have traditionally feminine birth names, by someone calling you by that birth name, it can have all of the gendered stereotypes about that name attached to you. You’re not being seen for who you are and how you identify, which… causes a lot of anxiety.”
Radkte said that for those being called by their legal name instead of the name they now identify with, it can lead to a lack of understanding and inclusion in the classroom. The student preferred name policy avoids this by showing teachers only the preferred name on the roster.
“(A legal name is) very alienating because it’s everywhere,” Radkte said. “Do people really accept you for who you are?”
Difference in gender identity and names can lead to gender dysphoria for some transgender people.
“For me, dysphoria is the feeling that you’re not being perceived in the way that you want to be perceived,” Gillespie said. “I wanted to be perceived as a woman, and a lot of times people don’t perceive me as a woman or don’t treat me the way they would treat a woman. So that causes a lot of anxiety within me because I know I’m a woman. When someone says this name that has a gender that you don’t identify with at all… it brings all that pain back up.”
Tyler said the idea of a preferred name policy floated around campus even before he began working at the university.
However, the project really started moving forward after the 2014 campus pride index assessment, a national assessment tool administered by the national organization Campus Pride. The index gauged LGBT inclusion on college campuses. Drake received two stars out of five for LGBT inclusion.
Tyler then met with students to address how to move forward to improve. About a year ago, a working group came together with members from IT and student records to
finally make the student preferred name a reality.
“(We) said okay, let’s do this,” Tyler said. “Let’s really do this. What would it take to make this happen? We’ve been working on this really diligently since last January through the spring semester.”
Tyler presented the policy drafts and ideas to members of Drake’s LGBT support group Rainbow Union and LGBT advocacy group One Voice for feedback and improvement.
“There were a lot of people who were excited,” Radtke said. “I even had people who aren’t LGBT involved (say) they were excited for it to because it can be easier for them as well.”
The final, reassuring push for the project came in May of last year. A “dear colleague” letter arrived at Drake from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. The letter clarified that transgender students fall under Title IX protection.
“Essentially the Title IX policy outlines all the ways in which schools must protect trans
students,” Gillepsie said. “If those guidelines are violated, it would be a violation of Title IX, just as if a sexual assault case were mishandled or if the school were discriminating against disabled or other marginalized groups.”
Drake’s Title IX coordinator Katie Overberg explained that lacking a student preferred name policy did not put Drake in danger of violating Title IX.
Iowa code already includes transgender people under the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Drake’s own nondiscrimination statement already includes students of all gender identities.
Before the student preferred name policy, Drake was accommodating students who sought out a name change on a case-by-case basis. The new policy, Overberg explained, simply makes the name-change an easy, recognized option for students.
“I do know multiple people who would benefit from this,” Radtke said. “I know that, even though if I don’t know them, I know there are other people on campus who would take advantage of this, even if it is to explore their gender identity.”
Tyler said that 1,300 students currently have a different preferred name in the system from when they came to Drake. Of those, 900 preferred names are “significantly different” from the legal name.
Tyler said that this is not an indication of all transgender students who may take advantage of the policy. International students who take on a more common ‘American’ name are included in the figure.
Campus Pride reports on its website that nearly 160 colleges have a similar policy or option in place already. Tyler said that if students submit a “goofy” name, it could appear odd to potential employers and new professors.
“If they want to put something sort of goofy into the system… you can put that in there,” Tyler said. “There are some natural ramifications.”
While many steps are still needed to make Drake more inclusive to the LGBT community, Tyler said that he is looking to reassess the campus pride index.
“It’s hopefully something we could do this semester is to reevaluate that score we got a few years ago,” Tyler said. “I think we’ve moved up some.”
Emails are being sent out to campus to further explain the policy and how it will work. Students can expect to find the preferred name submission in MyDUSIS under personal information once it has been implemented. There they will find the form to submit a name and will be able to check if they already have a preferred name.
If a preferred name is entered, it will automatically be updated on all applicable platforms once the policy goes into place.
Students can change their name at any time but should expect a few days for the name to update across all areas.
In addition, emails sent to the student’s address before the change will still be delivered. For example, emails sent to Anthony.Tyler@d rake.edu will still be delivered to Tony.Tyler@drake.edu if Tyler decided to change his name to Anthony.