Last year, the petition Allow the Use of Preferred Names quickly reached the required 250 signatures. The Student Senate unanimously agreed to work on the petition, and tasked the Student Life Committee with investigating possible avenues. After more than a year of work, preferred names are nearing deployment at Rensselaer.
The petition cites self-identification as “one of the core rights we have as humans… Imagine trying to be comfortable and live life when you are being addressed with a name and with pronouns that don’t fit you.”
The petition aims to bring this self-identification to RPI, so that students can use “any non-legal name of their choosing” for all non-legal uses, says current SLC chairperson Justin Etzine ’18.
Graduate student and sponsor of the Emily Downs said her original reason for creating the petition was her own inability to change to a preferred name. RPI currently requires a legal document for a name change to occur.
Downs said she wanted the process to be made easy so students do not have to struggle for every new class. Many other colleges and universities already have a system in place that allows students to change their names, making their preferred name the only one available to professors.
The process has not gone without some opposition. When the petition was first recognized, there were questions about the practicality of implementing a preferred names system. The concerns particularly revolved around changing the name on student IDs. Fraternities use Rensselaer IDs as admittance to parties, which could cause confusion if the legal name differs from the name on the ID. There was also concern about where Rensselaer IDs stand as legal IDs. In the case of injury or similar, if an authority were to find only the Rensselaer ID on the student, there might be confusion in identifying this student. But Downs said that if this were ever the case, RPI would likely be contacted to confirm and the possible confusion mitigated.
One other problem preferred names faced is the potential for abuse. Earlier this year at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, one student changed his preferred name to “Your Majesty.” Downs said that the reason this happened was because Michigan’s system is automated. At Rensselaer, paper forms will be available in the Registrar’s office to change names, with the intent of reducing this occurrence. The Registrar can also look into a requested change if necessary.
Downs says the system should be in place by the end of the semester. She estimated that between 50-100 people in the LGBTQ community at RPI will take advantage of the system. Even more students who prefer a nickname, like Jack over John, will also be able to change their name with the new system.
When in place, it will only affect class rosters, Residence Life, and the Center for Career and Professional Development. Downs called this a “stepping stone,” and aims to further work on bringing preferred names to ID and even allow incoming students to change their names before they arrive at Rensselaer.