On March 27, UC Davis began its preferred name service, which allows UC Davis students to change their legal first names on campus systems to a preferred name through the online directory if they so choose. The name change would then automatically propagate into other campus systems such as SmartSite (which includes class rosters), electronic grade reports and the library.
For spring 2014, students who use this service will be able to exchange their AggieCards to represent their preferred name at no cost.
UC Davis is the third UC to adopt this service behind UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine. The service first began at the University of Vermont.
However, the UC Davis Office of the University Registrar specifies that preferred names will not apply to services necessitated by legal requirements such as financial aid, transcripts and diplomas, and that legal first names will continue to be used for these services.
According to Amy Kautzman, associate director of academic services for the UC Davis Library, the service is primarily directed towards transgender students who wish to have their names reflect their gender identity and international students who may choose a westernized name for convenience of pronunciation.
Kautzman said this service was born out of a conversation she had with transgender students who came to the library’s circulation desk asking for the addition of more gender-neutral restrooms and for the library system to reflect their preferred names. According to Kautzman, gender-neutral restrooms were added to all library locations approximately a year and a half ago.
“They really wanted to be respected by going by the name they wanted to be going by,” Kautzman said. “And in some cases they were passing as the gender they identified and it was important to them that they would not be outed. It wasn’t safe.”
While Kautzman took the initiative to bring this idea to various departments, including the Office of the Registrar who finally implemented the service, she takes no credit for the idea and emphasizes that it came entirely from student voices.
“Students brought it to us and we took it home; they raised the need,” Kautzman said. “They were the ones that said, ‘This is important to us.’ They absolutely deserve credit for that. I would not have carried this without the students bringing it to the front desk and saying that this is a service that we need. We need to know what students need, everything from quiet space to the ability to use our own name.”
Ali Marie Cordone, assistant registrar, said the delay of the service was largely due to making sure that the change in student identification would not interfere with legal processes.
“Changing a campus culture really takes a while,” Cordone said. “I think if you look at the world today, when we talk about identification, it’s very important. Those things are very important. And those are all legal government issued identifications. I think to change campus culture and that ID card and necessarily needing to meet that criteria takes time.”
According to Cordone, incoming UC Davis students also have the option to begin their time at the University with a preferred name. She said when students are submitting a photo for their AggieCard, they will also be asked if they would like to use a preferred name.
While Cordone says there is a lot of freedom in a preferred name a student may choose, the registrar’s website explicitly warns against names that are inappropriate or misrepresentative. However, Cordone says that there is no current system to check for this behavior.
According to Kautzman, UC Davis is among the first to partner preferred names with campus police. According to Matt Carmichael, UC Davis police chief, UC Davis officers have been trained specifically to use preferred names in their interactions and, in the event that a legal name is required, the officers have been instructed to pull students away and speak in privacy in order to not disrespect or out them if they are transgender.
“Our goal is not to out anyone and to make sure the environment is comfortable for everyone,” Carmichael said. “This is unique for us because I don’t know of any other policy that’s like this. It gives police very clear direction and it gives students very clear understanding that we support this.”
While Elizabeth Coté, interim director for the LGBTQIA Resource Center, still sees work to be done by the University in terms of transgender equality, she praises UC Davis for taking this progressive step.
“I don’t think it absolves me of thinking about all the work that we have to do to continually improve our campus,” Coté said. “There is still data that our campus is not particularly welcoming, especially to trans-folks. There’s other systemic issues that we’re needing to talk about. But of course it feels fabulous that UC Davis is making this powerful decision that is inclusive and progressive.”
According to Coté, preferred names provide a useful resource for students who are unable to pay for the financial process or not ready to change their name legally.
“I think that for college-aged folks, they might not be out to everyone in their life, including family, so making that decision to change your legal name before you’re really out to everyone might feel pretty complicated,” Coté said.
While the registrar has limited free identification cards solely for Spring Quarter, Cordone says there is a general appeal process in place for students who may not be on campus this quarter.
“We do have to put a time limit on things,” Cordone said. “I’m certain if a student comes to our office and says, ‘I wasn’t on campus last term, I would like to use preferred names,’ that we would make an exception. We do have a general appeal rule for those instances because we’re not going to continue to hand out AggieCards willy nilly because there is a cost to them.”
However, Coté views the limit to Spring Quarter problematic for transgender students who are not out as transgender yet.
“Ideally it would continue to stay in place because it’s not like everyone has scheduled their coming out process for spring 2014,” Coté said. “In my ideal world, it would always be free. If you needed a new ID card, not because you had lost it, but because you were changing your name, it would be nice if it was always free.”
According to Cordone, faculty and staff are not included within the preferred name service because of them using a different system and the more legal departments staff deal with that would make the process more complicated.
“The directory is a way to feed Banner, which is a student information system,” Cordone said. “This program is student focused. When you talk about staff and faculty, those records are maintained through human resources and payroll and personnel. Those can be considered legal records. I think that there are more things to consider.”
However, Coté remains hopeful that this service will include staff in the near future.
“I think that it’s a really great example setting on the Office of the Registrar who has done this and I think that it will hopefully serve as an example for the staff systems,” Coté said. “ I’m hopeful that it will only be a small amount of time before it slides over to the staff side as well.”
In his experience, Wesley Young, director for Services for International Students and Scholars (SISS), has found that many international students may use a westernized name because of the difficulty of pronouncing their legal name.
Because the SISS deals with many legal immigration documents for international students, Young says extra processes may be done in order to certify the identity of a student.
“Because all of our records are with their legal name, we don’t encourage them to use [a preferred name] because it makes it hard for us to find them in our records,” Young said. “If their legal documents have their legal name and it doesn’t match their ID card, normally we would say, ‘I’m not going to give you this document.’ But now that we know that they could have a preferred name, what we’ll have to do is check their student ID number to confirm that and confirm their identity.”
In addition to campus police, Cordone says faculty and staff who have an educational purpose have access to Banner, which is the system that holds information regarding legal and preferred names. Cordone maintains that Banner is Central Authentication Service authenticated access which means that users must obey the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and maintain a student’s privacy.
According to Cordone, as of April 3, 11 students have changed to a preferred name.
Kautzman said that the service promotes respect on campus among diverse individuals.
“I think you’ll find that most people who work for the University care deeply about the people who work with us, for us or come to school here,” Kautzman said. “It was just really important that we did this simple thing. What does it cost us to call people by the name they wanted to be called by? It’s nothing. It’s just respect. It’s about respecting how people want to be addressed.”
Students who wish to go by a preferred name may go to directory.ucdavis.edu/PeopleSearch.htm and set their name within the directory.
JASON PHAM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.