Transgender students have been feeling dehumanized on Knox’s campus due to a lack of recognition for non-legal names and identities. With so many trans students on campus, Bright Distinguished Professor of American History Cate Denial feels that efforts should be taken to respect the students.
“The reasons that it is important to me that we change it on class lists is because there are some people who still call roll. On the first day, they don’t necessarily know that when they call Jane, that actually it’s Jim,” Denial said. “So they are outing people and so, we have to do better than creating circumstances where that can happen.”
Junior James Cook came into Knox without a legal court order saying he wanted to go by James, but preferred if people called him such. When applying to college, he put in his preferred name, but still when arriving at school was presented with an orientation folder with his “dead name” presented on it. Dead name is a term used to represent the name and/or differently gendered identity that a trans individual leaves behind after coming out as their true self.
“A lot of the time we’ll have international students that go by a different name because of whatever reason, and the school is always pretty good about putting their name on things. Like my orientation folder … had my dead name on it,” Cook said. “There were people who — and I’m not faulting them, this is about the school — but there were people who had a Chinese name but went by a more Americanized name, and the Americanized name was on their orientation folder. That’s a very weird discrepancy to me.”
Both Denial and Cook feel that there should be an easier way for trans students to be recognized on campus. Problems with name tags and class lists are high on their list of issues.
“When I was taking [Denial’s] museum class, we actually had an event we had to go to where we had name tags from the school, and mine had my dead name on it for literally no reason. So [Denial] grabbed it and threw it away and wrote a new one for me, but then I was the only one in the room with a handwritten name tag,” Cook said.
Senior Katie Goldstone-Hersch has also felt discouraged when working with the administration to change the heteronormative name-changing system. Instead of going directly to the administration herself, she has been working with Common Ground to change the overall programming rather than just one case.
“I don’t want to deal with it, and also I’ve been coming at it from working with Common Ground and trying to change it systematically, and from everything that I’ve experienced with that, it seems like there’s not really an easy way to do it anyways,” Goldstone said.
Early in the morning on Monday, Feb. 18 the Common Ground distribution list received an email saying that if they had a preferred name, they could now change it on their identification cards and the fee would be waived. Soon after, students were alerted that the identification card machine was broken due to flooding that happened in the dining services office on Jan. 27, and would not be able to change any cards until further notice.
Aside from the identification system, Vice President and Chief Information Officer Steve Hall understands that this issue is prevalent on campus and has been halted by overall program issues.
Jenzabar, the software company that Knox uses, runs almost all offices on Knox College campus, including the registrar and the financial aid offices. If one system is ready to make the adjustment of names in their programs, it does not mean all are prepared.
Hall worries about adjusting any programming within the system, including adjusting preferred and legal names until the college has taken further action on a new software system.
“It sounds like a really easy thing to do, and conceptually it is. But when you start thinking about all the different places that you have this information … it becomes an incredibly hard and laborious thing to do. The consequences of doing it wrong or doing it poorly are quite high,” Hall said.
According to Hall, after discussion in the past weekend’s board of trustees meeting, the administration talked about prioritizing million dollar projects. Hall presented an action plan to the board regarding software updates.
“There’s been a desire to change out the software system for quite a while, its a multi-million dollar project to do this, so it has to get in line and be prioritized,” Hall said.
Denial shares the same desire, but thinks a change should have been made long before now.
“I’ve had trans students in my classes who have gone by a name other than their legal name for years … I think there should’ve been action on this a long time ago,” Denial said.
Hall states that it is an issue that will be resolved, but the time frame is unknown. Until the college invests in new software, actual adjustments to names in rosters, name tags and class lists are up in the air.
“What I think is a general knowledge is this is a huge undertaking, huge, and as such, it’s a huge commitment of resources and everything else and has to be considered, and in my opinion in a technical perspective, our underlying system just isn’t ready to do it yet,” Hall said.