By Julia Sarcinelli
Framingham State instituted a preferred name option at the beginning of this semester, which allows faculty member or student to identify themselves as a name besides their legal name.
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston said this new option will be used “where possible in university communications with students,” including class rosters and email addresses, and that it is a way for the campus to “be as inclusive as possible.”
He added this can be especially helpful to those in the LGBT+ community on campus and to students who prefer to go by a nickname, such as international students. Huddleston said the system the University uses, Banner, consolidates and distributes information, such
as student records or class schedules, and is used in universities across the country.
However, this does not allow anyone using the preferred name option to select which areas they wish or wish not to use their preferred name.
“There have been a couple concerns, primarily for students who have not been able to come out to their family. So if they email home and their preferred name comes over, that’s kind of an unfortunate circumstance,” said Huddleston. “But what we hope to do is to be able to continue to offer support and guidance for faculty, staff or students who may be struggling with that process of actually coming out, so they can participate in ... our process of preferred names.”
Rylan O’Day, a junior, said he is not out to his family so he didn’t want them to receive emails from him with his new preferred name. “I reached out to Sean first, who responded quickly and he reached out to ITS [Information Technology Services] for me,” said O’Day. “ITS responded saying that the system they use couldn’t differentiate between which system used the preferred name ... and that they are working towards expanding the system capabilities. Both Sean and ITS were understanding of my concern and tried to help.”
O’Day added it is “a great idea and wonderful system for students who are out to family or who don’t use their school systems to contact family.”
The process to roll out the preferred name option for the Fall 2015 semester began at the end of last semester, when several groups and faculty members met as the LGBT+ Initiative to discuss different ways to become more inclusive on campus, according to Kathy Martinez, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence.
“I just wanted to get all these different groups in the same room together,” said Martinez. “Then we talked specifically about pronouns in the classroom and how we could help facilitate that.”
Transgender students who were transitioning had brought up the issue of classroom situations where they have a legal name on record, but it’s not the name that they’re using anymore, according to Martinez.
“At the same time, we’re having these campus-wide conversations about gender-inclusive housing and resources. So it’s like all of this stuff was happening at the same time, so this just came up through that,” she said referring to the preferred name option.
A committee including Huddleston, Martinez, Mark Powers, university registrar/executive director of student records and registration services, and Susan Dargan, dean of social and behavioral sciences, met over the summer to create the option.
Students seem very excited about the initiative, according to Martinez, but “the only technological issue is you either have to have your preferred name be used in all available spaces or not at all.”
Martinez said the administration acknowledges that the option “isn’t 100 percent done,” but she encourages students to give feedback and to “get involved in the effort to make things better.”
Kim Dexter, director of equal opportunity, title IX and ADA compliance, said she is “ecstatic” this new option is available to students. “We know this is not perfect, but this has been a discussion for years,” she said.
She added it was important the administration made the option available to students for the start of the school year. As for the future, Dexter said she hopes students will be able to select the areas in which to have their legal or preferred name used.
Huddleston also said he hopes to “decouple the systems a little more so people can opt into where they’d like to use their preferred name. And we’re already somewhat decoupled because, legally, there are certain places where we can only use a person’s legal name. ... But I think the decoupling of those systems will certainly help us move in that direction.”
According to Dexter, due to legal constraints, financial records will remain in students’ legal names, along with reporting grades, because it ties into transcripts. She added the administration is looking into whether or not they can use the preferred names of students for other options, such as for their diplomas.
Interim Vice President for Enrollment and Student Development Lorretta Holloway said the new option is important to build a more inclusive campus environment.
“It’s important for people in the process of changing names so they can be called whatever they want to be called, as who they see themselves as,” she said. “It takes a long time and it’s already a difficult process, so it doesn’t make sense to me why, in the meantime, you can’t be called in class the name you go by.” Holloway said the inclusive excellence model developed by Huddleston is important to help make FSU a place where people can recognize their own strengths.
In his email to students, Huddleston said, “As long as the use of this preferred name is not for the purposes of misrepresentation, the university acknowledges that a ‘preferred name’ can and should be used where possible in university communications with students. Therefore, any student may now choose to identify a preferred first name in addition to their legal name.”
Huddleston said the administration has three goals to implement this year: recruitment, retention and responsiveness. “We want to continue to create strategies to assist with inclusive recruitment efforts. We want to make sure that we’re continuing to build a very welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone, so when they come here they want to stay here, and then ultimately graduate and continue to work here. And then we want to respond to the changing demographics and environment around us as much as possible.”
Huddleston said “recasting” the Multicultural Center as the Center for Inclusive Excellence, intercultural training, learning and development, Brave Space training to support the LGBT+ community, celebrating seven Heritage Months with education-based events and the grand opening for the MetroWest college planning center in Framingham are intended to make the university a more inclusive environment. Huddleston said the Inclusive Excellence website lists resources for students to get involved.
“When people find themselves to be underrepresented from an identity perspective, then we can find that the people almost self-segregate themselves, if you will, because there is a feeling of isolation,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody is engaged and ... make sure that we’re trying to build equity.” If one would like to indicate a preferred name, the form is available on students’ myFramingham accounts in the academics tab under personal information, according to Huddleston.
Fashion Design and Retailing Chair Rebecca Taylor said she and other faculty in the department ask students to introduce themselves during the first class and indicate what name they prefer. “Many of us have approached class in this way for many years – we try to use the preferred name, which might also be a nickname, or for international students, their non-Americanized name,” she said.
Taylor said professors received a confidential listing of students who indicated a preferred name, and that “one faculty member said that the listing was not entirely accurate, but it was helpful to have a listing.”
The option also allows those requesting it to identify their preferred pronouns as well, and Oakley Reid Sherman, a sophomore, said he thinks the new option is important and “a great thing that the school is doing. “For trans-identifying people, or non-binary people like myself, it gives them the opportunity to submit their name and pronouns without having to out themselves to professors, or run the risk of being outed in front of their peers. It’s a step in the right direction in the ongoing quest to make campus safer, and a more comfortable place for those of the LGBT+ community.”
Sherman said submitting a preferred name was easy. “It needs to be accepted so that students don’t put any harmful names in, but it gets accepted right away. And your accounts will start to change to show your preferred name, and your professor’s roster will change as well.”
He said the system has to change all the places where the preferred name can be used, and that this can be “problematic” to students who aren’t out at home. However, Sherman said he is excited about the new opportunity to be recognized as the name he prefers. “To be able to hear the right name coming from my professor’s mouth at the beginning of the
year is wonderful. Moving forward with this system was something they did right.”
Sophomore Jace Williams, whose preferred pronouns are they/them, said they think the option to indicate a preferred name was very helpful and exciting. “I don’t like having to see my legal name pop up on everything. ... I logged into my email, and to see ‘Jace Williams’ was a really great experience,” Williams said.
Williams added they heard other students really like the opportunity and their excitement “is well deserved.”
Freshman Elizabeth Cavicchi said the new option is “pretty cool” and that students can now request “to go by the name you want to go by, especially if you’re transgender.”
Senior Danielle Winters said she’s glad students can now select their preferred names. “I think it’s a good way for the University to show that they are about the students’ best interest.”
Junior Tyler Carden said he likes the new option because it helps to identify students “in a way that is more personal and true. ... Even something as simple as referring to a student by the name with which they associate can make someone feel strongly validated.”
Huddleston said he thinks implementing the preferred name option furthers his and the
administration’s efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive community. “I think this is a big step for this university, and I think that it helps to continue to solidify the university’s
commitment to creating an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for everyone. I think steps like this help us to move forward with many other initiatives that we either have in place or intend to have. It’s just continuing to foster a culture and environment for us here at the university.”