International, LGBTQ+ students to benefit

By Sophie Whorf, For The Miami Student

Many students at Miami prefer not to be addressed by their legal first name. While Miami does grant students the opportunity to use their preferred name in certain university files, the process is informal, incomplete and unknown to many.

Starting in August 2017, however, Miami students who go by a preferred name will be able to ensure that these names are used within almost all university settings. This is the result of the “Preferred Name Project,” a proposal that has been long underway and was met with support from University Senate yesterday.

This new policy guarantees that students’ preferred name will be used by the university whenever feasible, including on Miami ID cards, class rosters, course scheduling and study abroad registration.

However, not all documentation used by the university will revert to a student’s preferred name. Government-issued records, such as financial aid documents, official transcripts, diplomas, medical records and immigration files, will continue to use the legal name of a student.

Unlike the existing process involved with using a preferred name, The Preferred Name Project is a formalized, comprehensive plan that applies to each interface that interacts with a student’s name, including BannerWeb, Canvas, the Office of Residence Life, the university registrar and the Office of Admissions.

Coordinator of GLBTQ Services Shevonne Nelson says the current process of using a preferred name does not apply across the university. Even if students request a preferred name change through the One Stop for Student Success Center, their legal name may still appear on some documents. This is because the current policy does not involve each university operating system that uses a student’s name.

“What we’re trying to do is change the default in the system,” said English professor and project leader Madelyn Detloff. “The default is that your legal name shows up in the system, and then you need to go in and change your name everywhere, and then still, there are some places where the legal names are gonna pop up.”

The end goal is to make life easier for students by eliminating concern around name identity.

“We’ll always used the preferred name unless there’s a reason. This does help reinforce our commitment to making Miami University a welcoming place to all the students,” said Detloff.

Although Nelson and Detloff are two of the project’s key leaders, they did not pioneer the original movement. Demere Woolway, Nelson’s predecessor as GLBTQ Coordinator, pushed for similar initiatives during her time at Miami.

Nelson and Detloff recently sat down with Associate Provost Carolyn Haynes to discuss the academic implications of the issue.

“You spend more time in classes where your name matters. Because that’s your grades, that’s how your professor and classmates are addressing you,” Nelson explained.

As an academic advisor, Detloff had witnessed firsthand the necessity of a new policy.

“That [meeting] was a sort of tipping point where [the preferred name project] finally got the traction to get the attention of the Provost’s office,” Detloff said. “The time is right, but in terms of people who have been initiating this, there has been a call to do this for years — it just hadn’t trickled up to the people that can make decisions.”

Kyle Ashlee, a first-year doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program, says that this policy has the potential to benefit the Miami community at large.

“A rising tide lifts all boats — creating more inclusive spaces for specific communities also allows more inclusion [for everyone],” said Ashlee.

The preferred name policy does not only pertain to trans-spectrum students, but to any student who prefers not to use their legal name.

“The issue of names is really about how someone wants to be known in the world, and we should be mindful of that for everyone,” said Detloff. “What we’re trying to do is make this available for people who need it.”

Ashlee said many universities, by design, disregard people who do not fall within the traditional gender binary.

“In my coursework, we study a lot of the research that talks about how marginalized students experience the ways in which colleges and universities are not built for their success,” said Ashlee. “Transgender students are no exception to that. Institutions of higher education are not built for them.”

Z Nicolazzo, a Miami graduate and assistant professor at Northern Illinois University, is pleased to see Miami implement this new policy.

“I’m trans and use a different proper name than my legal name,” Nicolazzo said. “I used to have people — even people in the classroom — use my legal name, and this was after I had already shared my proper name.”

Nicolazzo says there were several instances where the university used their legal name, rather than their preferred name.

“There were multiple times I had to go into administrative offices and confront this issue,” said Nicolazzo. “It’s exhausting for students to have to continually think about…Some trans students don’t want to have to come out over and over again.”

Miami is not the only academic institution that has implemented this sort of policy. University of Vermont, Eastern Illinois University and Grand Valley State University are just a few institutions that have done so.

Nelson says that these policies also appeal to individuals who prefer a shortened version of their legal name and international students who use an anglicized variation of their legal name.

“We don’t have a huge population of trans students who are pushing for this, but we do have a significant population of international students who use anglicized names,” said Nelson.

Nelson says the need for such a policy is a reflection on Western culture.

“I don’t love that we are a culture that doesn’t adapt our tongue to pronounce other folks’ names, but I also understand that [international students] probably just get over it,” Nelson said. “You would rather have somebody call you something they can say, rather than mispronounce it every time and have to correct them.”

Detloff says that the continuous mispronunciation or failure to acknowledge a person by their preferred name can weigh on them.

“We could be unwittingly causing our students distress,” Detloff said. “We’re teachers, we don’t want to do that. We want our students to all feel comfortable and ready to learn — and we’ll do what it takes to make that happen. .

“If we can make [Miami] the most welcoming and supportive community that we can, then I think we’re doing our jobs better.”

For Nicolazzo, it’s an issue of human dignity and respect. Nicolazzo said people should be able to use the name they want to use, whether they are an international student, a trans student, or someone who just prefers to use a name other than the one on their birth certificate.

“You don’t wanna be labeled something that you’re not,” said Ashlee.