Gender and Sexuality Column

Syracuse University’s new preferred name policy is a step in the right direction for trans* individuals, but the fight isn’t over

“What do you prefer to be called?”

To many, the question may seem unnecessary. But for trans* individuals, it can be a matter of life and death. To address this concern, Syracuse University enacted a new preferred name policy earlier this month that allows students to input a chosen name to appear on MySlice, Blackboard and SUmail.

The policy, which was created with support by the LGBT Resource Center and the Student Association’s Student Life Committee, is a major victory for trans* members of the SU community. This new option to choose an alternative name corrects a glaring problem with the previous system — before the policy, students were exclusively referred to by their “official” names on class and grade rosters, even if those names did not reflect their gender identities.

“The preferred name policy addresses the fact that class rosters, email and Blackboard all based their information off of a student’s birth name, which could pose a problem for trans* folk,” said Keelan Erhard, co-chair of the Student Life Committee, in an email. “It will make the first day of class much easier for trans* students as the professor will call them by their preferred name rather than their birth name from the start.”

Previously, trans* students faced the possibility of constant misgendering by faculty and peers — whether from class rosters or SUmail accounts. Not only is it degrading to have to correct their professors or classmates, no trans* student should experience having to constantly justify their identities. Such pervasive references to birth names also put trans* students at risk of being publicly outed.

And, for trans* students, being outed can have devastating consequences.

While mainstream visibility for trans* people is higher than ever before, the fact remains that it is simply not safe to be trans* in the United States. Trans* individuals, and particularly trans* women of color, are at a much higher risk of violence than cisgender people. In fact, the number of trans* individuals murdered reached a record high this past year. In 2016 alone, at least 27 trans* people were murdered, according to The Advocate.

The risk of violence is a ubiquitous presence in the lives of trans* people, and it can be closer than expected. The city of Syracuse, unfortunately, is no stranger to anti-trans* violence. In 2008, trans woman Lateisha “Tiesh” Green was shot and killed outside a house party in Syracuse by an attacker motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiments, according to Syracuse.com.

Green’s murder is a reminder of how dangerous rhetoric against trans* individuals can be. Whether or not trans* students face direct violence, they are subject to the same deadly ideas — that their identities are false and their bodies disposable.

Thankfully, the new preferred name policy shows that SU is moving in the right direction. SU joins other universities such as Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern in adopting similar name policies. The decision to allow students the autonomy to choose how they are referred to demonstrates the administration’s commitment to meeting the needs of trans* students.

But the fight for trans* inclusivity is not yet won on SU’s campus.

Erhard, the co-chair of the Student Life Committee, said the lack of gender-inclusive housing and gender-neutral bathrooms are among the issues still unaddressed by the university. While mixed-sex housing exists on South Campus, there currently is no gender-inclusive housing option for first-year students.

“SU housing should designate a gender-neutral floor, floors, or building accessible to incoming freshmen in order to make the campus more trans-friendly,” Erhard said.

The successful implementation of the new preferred name policy serves as an example of SU’s movement toward trans-accessibility. But the policy also reflects how far the university has to go. After all, for many trans* members of the SU community, the option to choose their own names isn’t simply “preferred.”

It’s absolutely mandatory.

Gene Wang is a junior public relations major and women’s and gender studies minor. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at gwang19@syr.edu.

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