institutional cissexism

Institutional failings: universities and trans folk

Universities in North America are, by and large, massively failing to support and create a safe environment for their trans students, at even the most basic level.

Most universities will only register students under their legal names, and while I’m sure there are some that do, I don’t know of a single one that also records students’ preferred names and has a way of communicating those to the professors. I actually know of at least one university that insists that your university email address must directly reflect you legal name as registered in the school, as if that’s an unproblematic thing to require.

As it stands, if a trans student doesn’t want to go through pain and potential humiliation of explaining that yes, that name that was just called on the roster, which is at clear odds to their gender presentation, does represent them, but also, no it is not their name, they are 100% responsible to reaching out to each of their professors, individually, every semester in the hopes that if they ask the professors to call them by their preferred name, that those professors will actually remember and do so. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.

Let me put this another way: trans students who have not yet legally changed their names have to choose between outing themselves to every professor they ever have, being outed to each of their classes on the first day, or being mis-named throughout their entire time at the school. Starting university is stressful enough as it is; imagine having to take the risk of discovering that one of your professors is anti-trans, by having them attack you personally, before you even go to your first day.

This shit needs to be fixed. By failing to have preferred name policies in place, universities are inflicting violence on trans students.

But it doesn’t even stop there.

My spouse-person changed their name at some point before starting grad school last September, but after they had applied for the program. This means they were initially registered under their birth name and had to try to get their records changed, and we got to witness first hand what a shit-show that turned out to be.

Even with a legal name change certificate in hand, they never managed to get their name completely changed in the system. They informed four different offices/departments who all changed their name in various places, and yet their birth name continued to pop up all over the place, like playing whack-a-mole.

Their name was never changed in Blackboard (a system through which online courses are accessed, and where professors sometimes ask students to post reading responses or discussion forums), which meant they couldn’t post there without revealing their birth name. They was fortunate in that their professors were understanding about this and allowed them to submit those assignments directly via email, but this shouldn’t be something that individual students have to negotiate solutions to. This should be something that the university has a procedure for handling.

For them this simply was frustrating and annoying, but for someone else it could just have easily been painful, humiliating, and even triggering. Nothing about it was ok.

Trans people are, more often than not, made solely responsible for making sure we are called by the correct names and pronouns, but it shouldn’t be that way. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with a basic level of respect, and that includes respecting what they want to be called. It is universities’ (and all other institutions’) responsibility to make sure that they have policies and procedures in place to create spaces where their students can attend classes without facing violence from those institutions and the people who work for them.

Universities can’t guarantee that trans students won’t have bigoted classmates, but they sure as shit can make sure that they at least honour those students’ names, consistently and with minimal effort required on the part of the students. All students should be proactively asked if they have a preferred name for class rosters – this would honestly just save time on first roll call, for everyone, but also it takes the burden off of trans students of actively outing themselves at any level or seeking ‘special’ treatment.

This isn’t even difficult. How is it 2015 and this isn’t already standard procedure?

Fuck.