Students, faculty and staff at Boston University are now able to change their names in the BU Directory, bringing into effect a movement led by the University’s transgender and nonbinary community that called for its members to be identified by their chosen names.
The new changes, which first rolled out March 12 by BU Information Services and Technology, allow individuals to have their chosen names, as opposed to their legal names, displayed across BU services such as the online directory, classroom scheduling software, Google Applications and Microsoft Teams.
Elliott Wheeler, a junior in the College of Communication and president of student organization Trans Listening Circle, said he thinks these changes are necessary, adding it is “really important for people to have their actual name respected.”
Wheeler said some students’ deadnames — legal names they were given at birth but no longer use — might carry a “negative emotional significance.”
“If you’re in a college and they are trying to be inclusive, they should allow you to use your correct name on everything,” Wheeler said.
The update to the directory comes after months of advocacy from trans and nonbinary students at BU.
Alex P, a non-binary student at BU, started a petition Aug. 2021 advocating for these changes to University records in order to make them more inclusive for trans and nonbinary students.
Alex said they started the petition out of their “frustration” with the previous configuration of the student directory.
“I quickly found that the nickname function didn’t really do anything,” Alex said. “My name was still visible in the new directory. It listed my chosen names separately and didn’t replace it, which was a big safety hazard, and people have used that against me.”
Before phase one of the new technology updates was released, BU community members were not able to remove their legal names in the directory display. Instead, they could reach out to IT services to include their chosen name as a “nickname” and change their Kerberos login username.
The nickname would replace their legal name on other services, such as Outlook and Skype, but was included alongside their legal name in the directory.
Alex said having their legal name appear on identifying documents placed them in situations in which they were “outed” — or unwillingly made to disclose private information about their gender.
“I’ve had really frustrating experiences where when I’m getting labs done [at SHS] they have to use my legal name for identification purposes… and then I have to out myself in front of everyone else sitting in the waiting room,” Alex said. “It’s the same thing when I’m applying for on-campus jobs.”
Alex said they tried to reach out to the University privately two months prior to creating the petition, but did not receive a response from the administration until after the petition started gaining traction.
“I was very quietly furious that the administration only took action when they were held publicly accountable,” they said.
The petition is now closed, having garnered a total 2,716 signatures.
The second phase of the Identity and Directory Modernization — BU IT’s project aimed at making their services more inclusive — will allow students to choose their preferred pronouns for University records. It is set to launch in July 2022.
According to BU spokesperson Colin Riley, BU planned for the Student Information Services Renewal project for over a year now.
“The update to the directory is among the first new service capabilities to launch under the new SIS. The new system configuration allows us to store more than two legal sex markers, multiple gender identities, pronouns, and a name-in-use, making it more inclusive,” Riley wrote in an email.
The SIS Renewal will be released in multiple phases through fall 2023 and will impact a wide range of University systems, announced Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, last year.
“By fall 2022, students will register for classes in a new system,” Morrison stated. “Advisors will use new tools to review student progress, and faculty will submit grades in a different way.”
While they think the most recent change to the BU Directory is an “important” step, Wheeler said they believe the University has a way to go in making BU a safe and inclusive space for its gender non-conforming students, including addressing gender-neutral housing.
“Gender-neutral housing just isn’t actually what it says it is or what you would expect from it,” Wheeler said. “A lot of people have been very frustrated with trying to make change in that area.”
Student organizations, such as the Queer Activist Collective, have been working over several months to make BU Housing more inclusive to trans students but said last week they feel they have thus far “been met with resistance.”
“We’ve made these demands known to administration through multiple meetings in the fall and even in the spring semesters,” one member said at the time.
Instructions on how to update your display name can be found here.
Information for trans students on how to change your name on your Terrier Card and Blackboard can be found here.
Literally the least they could do, and long overdue. BU constantly promotes its “commitment to diversity” but treats its trans, nonbinary, and disabled students like trash, which has filtered out to the wider world. BU has made it clear it absolutely does not want these students on their campus. The BU administration has been antagonistic since its own students since John Silber’s arrival on campus in 1971, but the Bob Brown regime has really reached a new level of outright cruelty. For which Colin Riley is all to happy to constantly justify as long as the check clears.