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Two years after the launch of the Preferred Name Initiative, the program continues to increase in size each semester. The initiative — began through the efforts of the Lambda Alliance, the Undergraduate Assembly, the LGBT Center and the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Life — allows students who do not identify with their legal names for gender-related reasons to change them.

“The preferred name project started out with trans people and safety issues in mind,” said Senior Associate Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross. Cross — along with Associate Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma and Associate Director of the Office of Student Affairs Rodney Robinson — head the initiative.

As of now, the Preferred Name Initiative is only available to transgender, gender nonconforming, gender variant, and non-cisgender students. In the future, however, Cross hopes that the program will be expanded so that any student can go by a preferred name. This would include international students who may go by Americanized names and students who would prefer to have their nickname on rosters.

While students' names can be changed quickly after meeting with a trans ally, the process is still evolving as more students with different experiences and needs surface.

For example, when the initiative first launched, members who oversaw it did not foresee that the name change would not show up on the Canvas website automatically. This is because Canvas only updates the names of students once each semester.

“If someone has their name changed halfway through the semester we have to write to the Canvas people — who have been great and have been working with us — and say, 'We have to have the name changed on Canvas too,'” Cross said.

Kozuma echoed Cross’s words, stating that the name change is not a simple process.

“We currently have a system that doesn't allow for a simple 'flip of a switch' to change students' names to their preferred names,” Kozuma wrote in an e-mail. “We are discovering as we work with more students asking to use their preferred names that there are examples we have to take further steps to make sure their names are changed throughout the system.”

Since the Preferred Name Initiative does not have legal standing, the students’ legal names will still appear on licensure examinations and payroll information. In Pennsylvania, individuals must go to court to have their names legally changed.

Still, Cross said in her experience, students are grateful for the relief that the Preferred Name Initiative provides.

“In particular, I remember one student who came up to me at the beginning of the first semester whose name had been changed and they said, ‘Do you know what a relief it is to not have to think ahead and email all my professors and explain to them this is is the name I go by?’” she said.

Clarification: The article has been updated to reflect that the initiative is run in collaboration with the Lambda Alliance, the UA and the LGBT Center, rather than VPUL alone. This article now also clarifies that students do not change their own names in the system.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that the program is only available to transgender students. The article has been updated to reflect that the program is also available to gender nonconforming, gender variant and non-cisgender students. The DP regrets the error.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Penn plans to expand the initiative. The article has been updated to reflect that this was Erin Cross of the LGBT Center's own hope for the program, not an official plan for expansion. The DP regrets the error.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that faculty members oversaw part of the process of forming the initiative. The article has been updated to reflect that faculty members do not oversee the program. The DP regrets the error.

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