U’s naming procedure criticized

The current name change policy can be challenging for trans students.

Anne Millerbernd

When Mira McDonald’s instructor took attendance on the first day of class last semester, they called her by the wrong name. McDonald stayed silent until the end of class, then told her instructor she’s a transgender student.

Even after she registered her preferred name with the University of Minnesota, McDonald’s legal name remained on class rosters.

To keep this from happening, some campus groups are asking the University to ensure that when a student changes their preferred name on One Stop, it’s recorded on all University databases. The Minnesota Student Association drafted a resolution Thursday to require this policy change.

MSA intern Abeer Syedah, who authored the resolution, said the University’s current policy can be ineffective because some databases show the change and others don’t.

“A lot of students … [hoped] to see that the records would start to reflect the name that they identify with rather than the name that was forced on them,” she said.

Syedah said MSA hopes to take its resolution to the Board of Regents and eventually the University Senate.

Before a student’s official name changes on their academic record, University policy requires the student to complete a name change request form and prove their name has been legally changed.

But Gwen Carlson, president of the University student group Tranarchy, said changing a student’s legal name can be an extensive and complicated process. She said some students don’t want to change their name because their parents aren’t aware that they’re transgender.

Julie Selander, One Stop Student Services director, said through a University spokesman that a student’s ability to change their legal name is out of the University’s control.

The only other option for transgender students, Carlson said, is to tell their instructor before class that they’re transgender.

“That’s an additional burden on a group of students that already has a lot of additional burdens,” she said.

After McDonald learned that class lists don’t always include preferred names, she said, she began approaching each of her instructors to tell them her preferred name.

“It’s something that makes me feel very uncomfortable because I have to pretty much out myself to every single professor,” she said.

Chicano studies instructor Alex Covarrubias prepares for situations like this by asking her students to write down their legal name, preferred name and preferred pronoun on a list at the beginning of each semester.

Covarrubias said she does this to create a better classroom environment for transgender students.

“Otherwise, they’re put in a position … where they’re now having to explain themselves to a roomful of students, and it’s not their job to do that,” she said.

Selander said through the spokesman that One Stop’s software provides the preferred name, so the office’s staff use it when interacting with a student.

But McDonald said One Stop has used her legal name, not her preferred name, when the office has communicated with her.

MSA’s resolution would require a student’s preferred name to appear on the class list and for University employees to give preference to that name when addressing a student.

McDonald said if implemented, the resolution would be a big step for transgender students.

“Being called by the name you identify with is a huge, critical part of being transgender,” she said. “It’s very disenfranchising to continually be referred to by a name you don’t identify with and that you consider to be disrespectful.”