Chosen name policy implemented over summer

Illustration by Seth Moriarty

Before the start of the Fall 2019 semester, Lewis & Clark streamlined the chosen name policy on the technical end and expanded the policy so that chosen names are used more frequently. Chosen names are those that transgender people refer to themselves by, instead of their birth names.

 Those who wish to have their chosen name on class rosters, grade rosters, diplomas, the commencement program, Moodle and email can now do so through one form. Legal names will still be required for official transcripts, enrollment verifications, federal financial aid forms, tax documents and payroll documents. This process has been compressed on the technical side through Colleague, the college’s information management system.

According to Dean of Equity and Inclusion Mark Figueroa, the policy was implemented after two years of development and technical changes to the system. 

“The policy is designed to create an inclusive environment on campus where individuals can choose to use a name that better reflects their identity than their legal name,” Figueroa said via email.

Previously, the college did not collect chosen name data through the information system, but the “nickname” category functioned similarly. Director of Information Systems Brad Wilkin said the policy change comes after Colleague contacted LC.

“(Students) had the ability for some time and in the past to file a preferred name with the registrar’s office,” Wilkin said. “There has not historically been a place for it in our students’ system.” 

Ferdinand Sawyer ’22 has changed their name twice while at LC, once before the new policy was implemented and once after. Sawyer saw no difference between the two processes.

“They’ve made it really easy both times I’ve changed my name,” Sawyer said. “I had a really good experience with it, especially having gone to another school before, where it was effectively impossible to get your name changed.”

While in high school, Sawyer attended Castleton University in Vermont as part of an early college program, where they heard from friends that the name change process at the university could take years, even if a person had already legally changed their name. In comparison to Castleton, Sawyer thinks LC’s process is simpler and easier.

Sawyer has only ever had one problem with names at LC. They think the issue arose because legal names are required for billing, and the wrong name was used for a physical education class with an extra charge.

“All my professors’ rosters had changed last semester, except for one and I don’t know why,” Sawyer said, referring to the PE class. “That needed to be changed because I was dead-named in front of the entire class.”

Dead-naming is when trans people are referred to by their birth name, a name that they no longer use. This experience can be invalidating for transgender people.

A trans first-year student who applied to LC with his middle name as his preferred name said that LC’s policies made him feel safe. The name of this source has been omitted due to safety concerns.

Before LC Admissions sent him an acceptance letter, the office contacted him regarding his chosen name, and whether it should be used.

“They made that call because one of my essays vaguely mentioned that I had an unstable home situation involving (being trans),” he said. “I really appreciated that because they wanted to make sure that they were using my preferred name, but also keeping things safe for me.”

However, once on campus, the policy posed an issue. According to him, his name was changed in the system without his knowledge after filling out paperwork with a chosen name section. His parents signed up for the parent mailing list and when they received a communication, it had his chosen name on it, a name his parents were not aware of.

“That created a very, very uncomfortable evening, where I ended up having to write it off as the school must have made a mistake,” he said. “That was not a safe situation for me to have them call me by that name.”

LC changed his chosen name back to his middle name after the misunderstanding, but that still provided difficulties for the student. He frequently has to mention to the school that he has three names on record: his chosen name, birth name and middle name.

According to Figueroa, students should be aware that chosen names will be reflected in all of the legally permissible categories.

“The name change will occur across all systems where a chosen name field is used,” Figueroa said. “Only where legal names are required will a chosen name not be used. It is the policy of the college to use a person’s chosen name to the greatest extent practicable and permissible.”

Wilkin notes that this new policy has pushed Information Technology (IT) to be more deliberate in delineating where chosen names can be used in information systems.

“We’ve been much more intentional about identifying all the places where data is being pushed,” Wilkin said. “We’ve basically done an inventory of all of that and we’re trying our best to push (chosen names) into everywhere it needs to go.”

Thus, the anonymous student suggests that other transgender students should only change their chosen names in the system if they are out to their families. Otherwise, students can contact professors directly before class to avoid any name confusion with rosters.

Sawyer agrees with this suggestion and thinks that LC should look into expanding the name change policy because trans people are out to varying degrees.

“I think that … it’s possible to implement (the chosen name policy) in a way where it would only show up on certain things,” Sawyer said. “Allowing people to be out only in circumstances where it’s safe and comfortable for them — it’s really important.”

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