Among many of the LGBTQ Resource Center’s goals to foster overall acceptance on campus is implementing name preference options in myZou.
Transgender students are vulnerable to many name-related issues on campus, said Struby Struble, coordinator of the resource center. For example, when the university is unable to recognize preferred names on class rosters, students’ identities are disrespected.
“If someone has transitioned and presents themselves as a Samuel but their legal name is Sally, and someone else hears the name Sally, that person is no longer safe because our society generally doesn’t accept it,” Struble said. “It’s not just a nickname or a discomfort; it’s that there are often truly violent reactions to someone transgressing society’s gender norms.”
Students are able to change their names in some of MU’s major outlets. On Blackboard, students can change their name preference in the settings. On Outlook, MU’s Webmail, a student’s name is bound legally, but privacy settings are available for basic protection purposes.
At a certain point, however, students’ legal names can prove to be too much of a bind.
“The easiest and most successful way for a trans student to have their preferred name is to go through a legal name change because, while there is a lot of work being done across campus to get there, the university does not yet have policy set up to have preferred names displayed,” Struble said.
In myZou, where students’ grades and biographical information are stored, an option for name preference has not yet been made available. Without an official name change on record, transgender students can only get so far in terms of being represented as they would like to be.
“There are a lot of different systems that display your name in different places, so unless it’s a sweeping legal name change, there are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle,” Struble said.
When it comes to offering name preference in all university outlets, there is a lot more to blame than just apathy, University Registrar Brenda Selman said.
“We are understanding and empathetic to the concerns of the those who wish to use preferred names,” Selman said. “Currently, the myZou system is unable to use preferred names in a way that would show on rosters and other places where individuals may want it to show. Modifications to do so would be extensive and expensive according to the research we've done.”
Since students’ names are tied to financial aid, social security numbers and tax reporting for financial credit related to school attendance, use of official names on student records are not able to be discontinued.
“Preferred names can be recorded, but they do not automatically populate or get pulled on reports,” Selman said. “If or when the software maker provides that as an option, we will consider using it.”
Noel English, director of MU Equity for the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, agrees with both Struble and Selman.
English said something is considered discriminatory if it violates state or federal laws regarding equal employment and educational opportunity.
“I wouldn’t say that using a legal name is discriminatory, even though it may not be preferred,” English said. “At the same time, there is an issue here with safety, comfort and self confidence.”
The role of the diversity initiative is more of an umbrella, English said, and its main mission is to integrate diversity throughout campus. MU Equity deals with issues of discrimination and harassment.
“I wouldn’t say that this issue falls under harassment, and I wouldn’t say that it’s discrimination, but I would say that it’s inequitable,” English said. “I’m quite sure that this is a problem for some of the students, and I think we all understand that. The question is not whether it is but how, and that’s the statement point.”
While the push for preferred names is still largely a work in progress, Struble notes there are many other ways to foster acceptance in the transgender community.
For example, if someone comes out to you as transgender and tells you their preferred name and pronouns, you should use their preferred name and pronouns immediately and forever, Struble said. There is no buffering period when it comes to calling a student who has transitioned by their preferred name, unless they request it of you. It is paramount to refer to everyone as they prefer to be referred to.
“I think a lot of negativity that trans students receive on campus is unintentional because people just don’t understand or haven’t been exposed to it,” Struble said.
According to Struble, name preference is one of many important issues in the LGBT community at MU. Administrators are always looking at the policies of other schools and institutions as a model for change.
“There’s absolutely still discrimination and violence that occurs,” Struble said. “But there’s a lot more positivity than one would expect.”