It is now easier for students at Penn to use a “preferred name” if their legal name does not reflect their gender identity.
The Preferred Name Initiative has been launched on the website of the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life. The initiative provides a new systemized way for students to request that their preferred name be used in place of their legal or birth name in University systems.
“This is really important for our trans students to feel part of the community and to be safe and to really be recognized for who they are,” Senior Associate Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross said.
Faculty and staff are not currently eligible for this process, Cross said. People who would prefer to go by their Hebrew name, those who are named after their father and use their middle name and international students who want to go by a different name also cannot request a preferred name, though Cross hopes to see the initiative expand to include them. “Personally I think anybody should be able to use their preferred name,” she said.
In the past, transgender students who wished to use a preferred name had to reach out to Cross and work with her to get their preferred name recognized by the registrar’s office, but there was no official system. Since this option was not publicized, trans students most often heard about it through word of mouth, Cross said.
Now, students who identify as transgender, gender noncomforming, gender variant and non-cisgender who would like to use a preferred name can fill out the Preferred Name Change Form online. This would allow their preferred name to be used on their PennCard, in the Penn directory and on class rosters. This process would not constitute a legal name change.
Students who wish to use a preferred name will also meet with one of three trans allies, who aim to “facilitate a confidential process,” Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Karu Kozuma said.
Kozuma, Cross and Associate Director of Activities for the Office of Student Affairs Rodney Robinson are the three allies that will work with students throughout this process.
A student’s preferred name will then be used “where feasible in all University systems unless the student’s birth name and/or legal name use is required by law or the student’s preferred name use is for intent of misrepresentation,” the VPUL website says.
The Preferred Names Initiative will be formally incorporated into Release 2 of the Next Generation Student Systems, a new database which will replace the three core student registration systems that are currently based on outdated technology: Student Accounts and Billing, Academic Records and Registration and Financial Aid, Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning at the Office of the Provost Rob Nelson said. http://www.sfs.upenn.edu/ngss/background.html
Although there is no definitive timeline for the database overhaul, Nelson expects it to be implemented in five to seven years, at which point the preferred names project will be formally incorporated into the new system.
Cross said that conversations about a preferred name initiative have been in the works for about 10 years, but they have “picked up speed in the last four or five years as the number of self-identified trans students increases on campus.”
More recently, she brought up this issue with College junior and Lambda Alliance Chair Dawn Androphy in 2012.
Androphy started working with the Undergraduate Assembly to solidify student support for the project and then moved on to conversations with administrators.
“Once everyone had thrown onto the table what they wanted from this new system, we were able to piece together a really cost-effective, simple and effective way for trans students to effectively use a preferred name,” she said.
Cross said that having an official process for requesting a preferred name not only legitimizes students’ identities, but it also helps keep them safe. She said students have encountered identification problems in the past when they present themselves as more masculine but their PennCard has a typically feminine name, for example.
Androphy noted that for incoming freshmen in particular, this initiative is especially important to demonstrate that Penn has resources available for transgender individuals and to help ease the stresses of coming to a new college campus as a transgender student.
“Whatever we can do to make that process easier for them and put them on the same regular level of stress that every other Penn student is experiencing when they arrive on campus, that’s a victory to me,” she said.