The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Colleges and universities are often thought of as safe havens for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming (LGBTQ) students, many of whom begin to discover their true identities once they begin higher education. While organizations like Campus Pride show that many colleges and universities are LGBTQ-friendly, studies continue to suggest that colleges and universities are actually reflections of our society and struggle with the same issues that communities across the country share. So it’s not surprising that while lesbian, gay, and bisexual students enjoy increasing levels of understanding and acceptance on campus, transgender and gender non-conforming students continue to face discrimination. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which has received a five-star rating on the Campus Pride Index, has identified one area in particular in which trans students continue to struggle: The ability to use a name and gender marker other than the ones assigned to them at birth on campus records and documents.
Campus Pride has identified 244 institutions that permit students to use a chosen first name, instead of the name on their birth certificate, on campus records and documents. A fraction of these 244 allow students to use their chosen name on their school ID card. Only 54 institutes of higher learning let students change the gender marker on their campus records without evidence of medical intervention. Of these 54, only 10 allow students to change their gender markers with a simple request, without requiring any kind of documentation of their transition.
However, even at universities where this has been instituted, the process isn’t as accessible as it could be. Cornell University is an example of this, allowing students to select the name they wish to use as long as they can provide a passport, birth certificate, or court-issued document — items to which many students may not have access. Increasingly, these transgender students are the ones left to fall into the cracks even when colleges and universities adopt these inclusive transgender policies.
Though we don’t often think about it, Abraham and Sarah changed their names from Avram and Sarai. These figures did not need to endure a maze of red tape or a series of hoops in order to change their names. Instead, they simply adopted the names of the people they were meant to be. The process of changing one’s name should work the same for transgender students on college campuses. The ability to change their name, and their gender marker, in any context should be a service provided on demand. It’s the logical next step forward for all institutions of higher education in the continued fight for transgender and greater LGBTQ equality.
Sam Haiken is a rising senior at Carleton College, majoring in political science and minoring in Middle East Studies. This summer, she interned at PFLAG.