The preferred name policy on Millersville’s campus has a long history, but a new chapter seems to be emerging. Millersville’s administration is currently working on giving students an easier way to use their preferred name on campus, but it hasn’t been a simple task.
The “preferred name policy” is a way for Millersville students to feel more at home by giving them a way to use their preferred name officially across campus. There are different reasons why a student would want to officially go by a different name, including preference because of their gender identity or just wanting to feel safe by not having to explain their entire situation to their professors and classmates.
This policy is sponsored by the President’s Commission on Gender and Sexual Diversity (PCGSD), and enables students to more easily have their preferred name used in the classroom, on official school documents and on their student ID card.
The policy provides a form to fill out that will be available through the myVILLE portal. This form will transfer the student’s preferred name information to the registrar’s office. From there, the office will make sure all of the other departments across campus have the correct name.
The previous way students would get their preferred name to be used officially in classrooms was not so straightforward. There is no advertised way of getting the information universally around campus, so everything was word-of-mouth. Each student who wanted to go by their preferred name had to tell the registrar’s office what name they wanted to be used, as well as email their professors about their preferred name.
This old way of communicating the student’s information has downsides. Dr. Tiffany Wright, the chairperson of the PCGSD, outlined some of these problems. She says that because transgender students have been the majority of people using this old system, there is a lot of risk for students having to “out” themselves to their professors. Many students have been uncomfortable with doing this, some even completely abandoning the process to have their preferred name recognized.
A former Millersville student, who has asked to not be named, recalls his story with contacting his professors about using his preferred name. “I had to email all of my professors and tell them and out myself… it was uncomfortable.” One of the reasons he said for this negative encounter was because “a professor refused to use my pronouns and name… I felt completely invalidated.”
The President’s Commission is hoping to combat these kind of problems. Dr. Wright says that they have been sending advocates into the different departments across campus to teach professors and faculty how the new system works and especially why students would want to use a preferred name. Their goal is to make the students comfortable, as well as educate professors about the students’ needs.
The new process using the online form is promised to be much better, but there are still hesitations with adopting the new system. Currently, the system cannot sync with Desire to Learn (D2L) because of issues between Millersville’s student database and D2L’s framework. This means that even if students were to use the form and apply for the university to use their preferred name, that name still wouldn’t show up on D2L.
This could still lead to students being outed, because they would still have to confront their professors about their situation. The team working to implement the policy is communicating with D2L about this syncing issue, but so far they are still unable to fix the problem.
“[We have] been in contact with D2L representatives to ask for their help in making this available. We’ll continue to work to get this accomplished,” said Nancy Pruskowski, who has been spearheading the IT implementation of this policy. There is a scheduled PCGSD meeting to address these issues this Thursday.
Millersville’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is also cautiously optimistic about this new system. The group has members on the board of PCGSD, and have been involved in the process of creating this online form. The students in the group are supportive of the form, because they are all too familiar with the risks.
“Having to email each professor and having to worry about outing yourself to them and the possibility that they may not follow that request is a risk that we worry about each semester so it is not an unfamiliar concern,” said a spokesperson for GSA. They say that although there are worries and risks with the new policy, it is more important for transgender students to feel at home and be referred to by their preferred name and pronouns.
Dr. Wright says the Commission is taking it slow and being cautious because the priority is to protect the students. “Although the process isn’t complete yet, the university is working on a process to help all the students.” She says that they want to be thorough in the process because “we are looking to do it right…we don’t want to hurt anyone or out anyone.”
The preferred name form is currently not available on myVILLE portal, but it is planned to be released soon.