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Let students choose their names

by The Concordian December 6, 2011

In order to help students who are tired with being continually outed in class, forced to deal with professors’ unresponsiveness and having to fight over which name they go by, one transsexual student is working towards finding better ways for the registrar to field requests like his.
“What I would like to see from this is for Concordia University to have a laid-out guideline in response to people who do not fit into their given legality of their sex or their gender,” said Ben, a student who preferred only to be identified by his first name.
Working in conjunction with Gabrielle Bouchard, the peer support and trans advocacy coordinator at the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, and Concordia Student Union councillor Michaela Manson, Ben is pushing to create that framework. Ben gave the University of Toronto as an example, where students have to write a letter to meet with the registrar to initiate a name change on their transcript.
Bouchard, Manson and Ben are in the research stages of the project, he explained, and will hold their first meeting in mid-December. They also intend to present the project to Senate in 2012.
“This is not just about trans people specifically – there are a lot of people that don’t necessarily fit into any binary,” he said. While describing his discussion with the ombudsperson, Ben also noted that non-Western students also sometimes wish to change their names, “because you know people are mucking up their names all the time, and they can’t pronounce it, and it just saves a lot of headaches,” he pointed out.
The initiative originates from Ben’s own personal struggle to have his preferred name on school records.
Having his legal name on school documents means that Ben is continually outed in class, despite reaching out to professors to explain that he prefers being referred to as Ben.
When Ben first arrived at Concordia, he headed to the registrar’s office to ask them to change his transcript to avoid those situations.
“When I went to registration, I gave them all my documents and I asked the registrar ‘listen, this is my situation, is there something that we can do so that I don’t have to get outed in my class or have any confrontations with my teachers’ and they just said, straight up, ‘No,’” he said.
Ben took his situation to the university ombudsperson’s office. He was told that he would receive a new I.D. from the registrar’s office within two months which would identify him using his preferred initial, then his legal initial, and then his last name.
When Ben went to pick up his I.D. card, he asked whether the changes were also reflected on his transcript. They weren’t.
“What was the entire point of me going to the ombudsman, going to all these people, addressing my situation, while now I have this stupid piece of plastic with a bunch of non-important letters on it that, if anything, is going to create more problems for me?” Ben asked. “I essentially just have this random I.D. card that doesn’t match up to any of my other files.”
Ben went back to the ombudsperson, who said the registrar would also be able to send explanatory emails to his professors before the start of classes asking them to use his preferred name. Ben accepted, although he was already in the habit of doing so himself.
“For me, when I choose to disclose to people I feel comfortable, I feel like I’m in a good environment. It’s situational,” Ben explained. Conversely, he said, ”if I’m getting outed in front of 6,200 people in engineering or sciences then I can’t control what those 6,200 kids are going to think about me and I sure as hell don’t want to have to deal with that for the next three to seven years.”
Students with questions or an interest in supporting the project are encouraged to email trans.action.cu@gmail.com.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gabriela Kamenicki is trans advocate at the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, when Gabrielle Bouchard is the peer support and trans’ advocacy coordinator for the centre. The Concordian regrets this error and apologizes for any inconvenience it may have caused.

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