Going beyond the gender binary

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley students study in the LGBT Resource Center on Sept. 29.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley students study in the LGBT Resource Center on Sept. 29.

Ashlyn Korienek

A name is a very personal thing. Each individual’s name is part of their identity. For students whose identity doesn’t line up with the identity they were assigned at birth, their legal name can cause a whole host of problems.

This issue particularly affects members of the LGBT community, some of whom no longer wish to be recognized as the gender they were born as. In those situations, it can be incredibly awkward if a professor calls them by their legal name, rather than their preferred name.

To allow navigation around legal name requirements on campus, Grand Valley State University is leading the charge within online student databases, provided by Ellucian Co., to create a more inclusive identification system for faculty and students.

Lynn Blue, vice president for enrollment development at GVSU, said the university is working to improve the myBanner system by displaying the individual’s preferred name throughout all GVSU systems, while navigating legal names. Blue said the university is anticipating being able to test the changes in the myBanner system by the second quarter of 2016.

“For nearly 10 years we have been asking that Banner platform allow for a preferred name,” Blue said. “Until recently they have been reluctant, but they have now heard us.”

The vendor of the myBanner system, Ellucian Co., is a national multi-platform suite of databases and programs providing support to admissions, records, registration, financial aid, student accounts and additional tasks implemented by the university.

In addition, Blue said GVSU has several systems connecting with myBanner needing attention immediately after the system changes occur. One of the systems receiving changes is Blackboard, which currently allows faculty to view legal names along with the individual’s changed name.

“This is not a simple ‘snap your fingers and make it so’ kind of solution,” Blue said. “For what it’s worth, GVSU took the lead on making this change happen for all universities and colleges using Ellucian systems.”

According to the Ellucian Co., the universities and colleges using its system must agree on how and where alternate names are to be used in the program for proper computer coding purposes. In GVSU’s proposal, Blue said the plan provides that each school can determine the extent they allow the use of name other than the legal name.

Colette Seguin-Beighley, director of the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, said the Gender Identity and Expression Committee (GIEC) at GVSU worked for two years examining the experience of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals on campus, issuing a set of recommendations to the university.

“We are currently working on implementing those recommendations,” Seguin-Beighley said. “We are working with national software companies to add a preferred name field as well as changing the way students can identify their gender.”

In order to fulfill recommendations, she said three single-user restrooms were constructed on the downtown campus over the summer. In addition, the GEIC is working on a phone application with the Seidman College of Business called “AnyBODY a Laker” that will map out the nearest single-user restrooms on each of GVSU’s campuses.

Seguin-Beighley said these projects require collaboration with campus and national partners including the National Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals.

Susan Korzinek, director of Information Technology at GVSU, said the university is currently working with the preferred name process; however, pronouns and gender markers are not a part of the current solution. Moreover, she said the university requires the individual’s legal name in financial aid processes, social security or employment procedures.

“It’s really about changing and navigating the legal name to identify properly what the individual’s name is,” Korzinek said. “We are hopeful in the future to have a solution that will push through all GVSU systems so faculty and students will not be able to view the legal name of the individual.”

For more information regarding the name changing process visit, www.gvsu.edu/lgbtrc.