By Mary Sprague
Elm Staff Writer
Starting this semester, students will have the opportunity to be known by preferred names or nicknames on class rosters.
“The option to provide a nickname has always been there,” said Registrar Ashley Turlington. “But it started with the admissions process and seemed to end there. On the application to [Washington College], students have the option to provide a nickname. When enrolled at the College, the nickname is entered into our system, but it wasn’t published anywhere.”
Turlington said they informed students about this option because many didn’t know that there was a nickname on file for them, that they could provide one if they wanted to, or that they could remove a nickname. Additionally, nicknames are now printed on rosters for the faculty to utilize.
This new naming option is one of many changes that provides ease in gender and identity expression. TaNGO, a recently founded student-run club that provides support, solidarity, and resources for transgender and other gender nonconforming students, pushed for the change.
Dr. James Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and advisor to TaNGO, said, “[T]he Diversity Committee talked with the registrar about enabling students to designate names on rosters and College records. The registrar suggested using the nickname category while we explore other ways to empower and support our students.”
According to Dr. Hall, over 50 colleges in the country let students change their names on their official college records without a legal name change, and almost 600 colleges enable students to use a preferred name on course rosters, ID cards, etc. These include Gettysburg College, Princeton University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Emory University, and University of Texas Austin. To look at a full list of colleges that allow students to change their records, go to www.campuspride.org/tpc/records.
Dr. Hall said, “According to Lambda Legal, FERPA gives students the right to correct records that are ‘inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student’s rights of privacy.’ Certainly, a student seeking to correct gender designation and name fall under this, as Lambda Legal has successfully argued. Most government institutions do not require medical documentation of surgery in order to change gender markings; over 500 colleges and universities in America do not either.”
Senior Roswell Wells discussed how this impacts transgender students.
“The option for students to change their name in the system is incredibly important because it removes the pressure on trans students to immediately out themselves to their professors at the start of the semester,” they said. “It’s not only incredibly uncomfortable and stressful to be outed in this way, it can also put trans students in unsafe situations.”
Dr. Hall said, “The case can be made that requiring students to go by names that do not match their gender identities actually denies them equal access to education. As well, if students can’t match their names up to those appearing on rosters, ID cards, email, Canvas, and transcripts, then that student might be vulnerable to being asked humiliating and embarrassing questions, at the least, to discrimination and a denial of privacy at the most.”
For students with longer full names that are usually abbreviated, it also alleviates some of the hassle for them and for professors.
“It saves me breath,” said sophomore Gabby Rente. “It makes it easier so that I don’t have to correct [my professors] from Gabriel to Gabrielle, then from Gabrielle to Gabby.”
“It simplifies things,” said sophomore Kelly Young. “It’s nice to have it already in the system.”
To add or change a preferred name or nickname, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of preference. Nicknames can be viewed on WebAdvisor, under the My Profile link on the Student’s Menu