Preferred Name and Pronoun at the University of Vermont: How We Did it and What We've Learned

In 2009, the University of Vermont became the first school to provide students the ability to enter a preferred name and pronoun in Banner.  During this session, University Registrar Keith P. Williams will explain the impetus for putting this system in place.  The session will cover how various member of the university community participated in the creation of the system, as well as how the registrar's office used Banner to provide the technical aspects of the project.  He will also share lessons learned throughout implementing the project.

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Keith Williams

University Registrar

University of Vermont

Preferred Name and Pronoun at the University of Vermont: How We Did it and What We've Learned

Monday, July 13, 2015 3:45 PM - 5:00 PM

Please tell us about your session.
I will do a historical sketch of how we implemented our preferred name and preferred pronoun system at the University of Vermont in December 2009.  We have about 12,000 students on our campus and of those students, 3,200 students use preferred names.  At any point in time, a handful of these students may be transgender.  Although several institutions have established a preferred name system, we were one of the first to do this with the intent of supporting transgender students and gender identity.  I will also present the top five questions that I receive from other institutions on creating this system, and leave enough time for a discussion.
How did the University implement this policy?

Our campus LGBTQA center has been asking for years to allow students to use a preferred name.  I started working at the University of Vermont in 2001, and within my first year, we started a conversation about creating a preferred name policy. Before we established the preferred pronoun policy in 2009, students needed to meet with the Dean of Students Office to appeal for a change in their name.

Soon, faculty members reported incidents where they mistook a student's gender in class.  They requested a system that would allow students to change their name and gender in a safe, discreet and comfortable manner.  

There are usually two big concerns that institutions have for this type of policy and system change.  One concern is financial: how can an institution fund and pay for the changes necessary.  The other concern is a much deeper and fundamental issue -- how can a campus support a student around questions of gender and facilitate comfortable interactions with faculty and staff.

What was it like to implement this system?

We wanted students to be able to change their preferred name and pronoun in the student information system, which would then take effect on all their student records in the campus.  

A big part of our success was creating two layers in our implementation, which I will discuss more in the session.  In Banner, the two fields we use are "First Name" and "Preferred Name".  We describe the campus as an "island of safety", where the preferred name and pronoun is used for all campus activities and internal systems.  Legal first name is available to office that needs it to help the student with processing, such as:  in student accounts, financial aid, responses to enrollment inquiries, and official transcripts.

The second layer of implementation was critical to our success.  We established a group equally represented by staff, faculty and students to discuss the implementation of the preferred name system.  The group also created documentation for both students and faculty so everyone on campus can understand how both sides of the system works.

As we wrote the documentation, we realized that we needed a way to establish a preferred pronoun so professors may better know how to address students.  We went outside of the traditional "he" and "she" pronouns and created a small table that holds preferred pronouns and other identifier information.

What are you looking forward to at AACRAO's Technology & Transfer Conference?
I spend a lot of time benchmarking for best practices, so every conference is an opportunity to create an office that continues to get leaner.  I'm always looking for ways to reduce the amount of non-value added work and make the staff available for higher level functions.  I believe that's where the registrar's office is headed.