New policy allows student preferred name, gender changes

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With Occidental’s adoption of a preferred name and gender policy, students can now change their names and genders on internal Occidental records such as class rosters, student directory listings, course evaluations and clearance forms, a campus-wide email signed by Acting Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard and Title IX Coordinator Ruth Jones announced Thursday.

To make these changes, students fill in their preferred name and choose their gender identity on the “Preferred Name and Gender Identification” form on MyOxy. Students can select “male,” “female,” “trans male/trans man,” “trans female/trans woman,” “gender queer/gender nonconforming” or “different identity.” Once the Dean of Students office approves the change, the name and gender will appear on relevant Occidental records, including students’ email accounts. Students who fill out this form can also receive a new ID card for free. A student’s legal name and gender, however, must remain on forms such as transcripts, diplomas, financial aid forms and W-2 forms.

For students who advocated for the policy, its official release was long overdue and signified the culmination of months of pressure on the Title IX office. Queer Student Alliance (QSA) President Alexis Morse (sophomore) and Vice President Margaux Ziss (sophomore) said multiple instances of gender discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming students led them to approach Jones in August, at which point she said a policy was in the works and would be released in a few weeks. This was the first in a series of promised deadlines, Morse and Ziss said, that they would receive over the following months.

When the administration did not release the policy by the start of the fall semester, and a student asked Morse how they could change their name in Occidental’s records, Morse contacted Jones, the Registrar and the Dean of Students office, resulting in a lengthy email chain but still no policy.

“Even if it was going to take that long, we should have been given a realistic estimate of how this was going to work because we were told in August, before classes started, that it was going to be released and then the whole semester went by and it wasn’t,” Morse said.

Morse, Ziss and QSA e-board member Clark Lazier (sophomore) attended Pizza with the President Jan. 22, President Jonathan Veitch’s first office hours, and asked why the name and gender change policy had yet to be released. QSA’s faculty advisor, Critical Theory and Social Justice Professor Heather Lukes, had recounted to Morse and Ziss a conversation with Jones at the end of first semester in which Jones said that the policy was finished and just needed a signature from Veitch to be implemented. At Pizza with the President, Veitch told Morse and Ziss that the policy had been adopted and released to the campus, and directed them to Jones. At this point, Morse and Ziss grew frustrated because the administration had missed an important window of opportunity — the beginning of a new semester — for implementing the policy. By now, the students said, those who do not go by their legal name would have had to explain to each new professor that the class roster listed the wrong name and be reminded of that fact themselves.

“[The beginning of the semester] is the most important time for it, and it’s clear that it’s not prioritized, like the meaning behind [the policy] is not prioritized for you because otherwise you would have sent it out to everyone to know when they were coming back in,” Ziss said.

According to Morse, Jones told her in a Jan. 25 email that the policy would be released by the end of the week. When the policy had not been released and Veitch sent out a campus-wide email about his one-on-one office hours, Morse immediately signed up for one of the 15-minute slots. She met with Veitch Thursday and again asked about the status of the name and gender policy. Within 45 minutes of their meeting, she said, the campus-wide email was sent out announcing the new policy.

Jones said that the policy would have been announced to the student body Thursday regardless of Morse’s meeting with Veitch, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The process, Jones said, began last spring and included first doing research on the practices of peer institutions and laws concerning where the college could change students’ names, and then building the technological infrastructure behind the policy. Jones said she believed that the policy would be released within each time frame she initially gave to the students, but that it took longer than anticipated to bring together the various components. In particular, Jones spent time attempting to assess every impact a name change could have for a student to ensure there were no unintended consequences. The technical aspect of the policy — ensuring that the MyOxy form triggers a name change in each applicable location — also took significant time to work out.

But Morse and Ziss believe the process was also mired by bureaucracy and a lack of urgency within the administration. The gridlock caused significant pain, Morse and Ziss said, for students who had to begin a new semester with an incorrect name attached to their Occidental records.

For one student who identifies as non-binary and uses a name other than their legal one, having their legal name appear on class rosters, emails and their ID results in frustration and discomfort because they constantly have to correct others and provide an explanation. Although students could technically have had their names changed on internal Occidental records prior to the formal policy adoption, this student had not pursued it because of how complicated the procedure seemed.

“It might be a small population of people that it is important to, but it’s really important to those people,” the student, who chose to remain anonymous, said.

Lucas Mogerley (first year), a transgender student who legally changed his name before coming to Occidental, cited similar concerns for transgender students who go by a name other than their legal one. Using an email address with their legal name attached or having their legal name called from a class roster are instances that can out a transgender student involuntarily, leading to a lot of anxiety, Mogerley said.

“I think it was hugely positive for me to be able to come to Oxy and choose what people knew and be able to come out on my own terms and not necessarily be outed,” Mogerley said. “But I was only given that option because I was able to legally change my name whereas some students might not, just because of the way that resources go and how everything is so convoluted and you have to jump through so many hoops to do anything.”

Jones apologized for how long it took to release the policy, and said that the delay did not represent a lack of commitment to making Occidental more inclusive.

Morse and Ziss credit activist student group Oxy United for Black Liberation and the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center occupation the group organized in November for creating the opportunities to meet with Veitch that helped them achieve their goal.

“The idea of centering Blackness, the theme of Black History Month, that is beneficial to queer and trans students,” Morse said. “[Veitch’s office hours are] just one instance of how their work has rippled out to other marginalized identities, so honestly, one of our goals is just to help them achieve their goals because what they’ve done has been so immensely helpful to us.”

For helping bring the policy to fruition, Jones, Morse and Ziss all acknowledge the students who approached the administration about changing their name or gender identity. Thursday’s email announcing the policy said that Leora Freedman and John De Percale in the General Counsel’s Office, Vic Egitto and Jim Herr in the Registrar’s Office, Jonathan Grady of Intercultural Affairs, Dominic Alletto in the Hameetman Career Center and Gerry Craft, Bennie Castro and Xiaoling Hong of Information Technology Services all helped in some capacity to create the policy.

“In some ways, we did this because we saw the need, and we gathered the people that we thought could work most quickly on putting together a policy and putting it in place,” Jones said. “But moving forward, we look forward to working with other members of the community and thinking of other ways to make this more inclusive, as we said in the email.”

A first step, Jones said, will be a training around gender identity March 2 including departments such as Campus Safety, Student Affairs and Title IX.

As students begin using the form, Jones, Morse and Ziss encouraged students to provide feedback, such as if their legal name still appears in places it should not.

“Give administration feedback, give us feedback, don’t be afraid to use your voice,” Ziss said. “It’s really hard, but you deserve to feel comfort on this campus as much as any other student. You deserve to have your needs met and to feel comfortable with your identity.”