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GW systems deadname transgender, nonbinary students in ‘difficult and demeaning’ process

Rachel Schwartz | Assistant Photo Editor
Students said GW lacks clear guidance or support for students who attempt to change their names to reflect their gender identity, only listing a few steps for the different processes on official websites.

Updated: Sept. 20, 2022 at 11:03 a.m.

When senior Naomi Jones read she made the dean’s list in an email from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences this spring, she couldn’t make it past the greeting without feeling “a punch in the gut.”

Jones still gets deadnamed, or referred to as a former name before transitioning gender or coming out, in some University emails, including the one she received from CCAS in June. Jones posted a tweet expressing her frustration with the University’s inability to update her name in its systems before she received an apology from CCAS Associate Dean Rachel Riedner via email about a day later.

Months later, Jones still receives emails deadnaming her – at least three since June, including two from the Division for Student Affairs and one from the Student Health Center.

“I would rather GW not have to apologize,” she said in an interview. “It’s not as much even about me as much as it seems like this is a trend for other trans students across campus.”

Jones is one of four transgender and nonbinary students and alumni who said despite changing personal information to reflect their gender identity within some of GW’s record-keeping systems, they were still deadnamed in official University communications. Experiencing deadnaming can cause anxiety and stress for a transgender or nonbinary person, taking them back to a period of time before they could fully express themselves as they truly are.

Students said the process of updating personal information within GW’s systems like G Suite – which includes GWMail and Google Drive – to reflect their gender identity is disorganized and confusing because they need to update information in multiple systems instead of just one. They said GW lacks clear guidance or support for students who attempt to do so, only listing a few steps for the different processes on official websites like that of the Multicultural Student Services Center.

Students have the option to update their name, pronouns and other gender identity-related personal information through platforms like Banner, Blackboard and Microsoft 365, according to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement website. They cannot change their legal name and sex on these platforms without proof of a legal name and sex change on their government-issued photo ID, the website states.

While all 50 U.S. states allow sex changes on drivers’ licenses, some enforce extensive processes that require amended birth certificates.

Changing your legal name varies state-to-state and requires individuals to potentially submit dozens of documents and fees before government officials approve the change. After an individual’s name is legally updated, they must notify dozens of agencies like health care providers, banks, utility companies and schools.

Students are required to submit a “chosen name change form” to change their personal information within platforms like Zoom, Handshake and G Suite, according to the ODECE website. But the Multicultural Student Services Center website states students looking to update their name in GWMail must email GW Information Technology.

Jones, who is majoring in archaeology, said even though the GW community was supportive and “respectful” of her transition that started in 2021, she faced challenges updating her personal University records.

“I had to go in and change my name individually with each service, and that didn’t guarantee that I would get it right,” Jones said.

Jordan West, the associate vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said updates to platforms like Blackboard can occur within a day, and if students have any questions about the process, they can email ODECE at [email protected].

“Several members of the GW community, including people who are trans, gender nonconforming and gender nonbinary, utilize the chosen name option to ensure their name and identity are accurately reflected through the University,” West said in an email. “Any student who experiences bias based on any aspect of their identity, including gender identity and gender expression, is encouraged to submit a bias incident report on ODECE’s website.”

Alumna Sofia Packer, who graduated this spring, said she experienced similar patterns of being deadnamed in emails after she changed her information within GW’s systems during her time transition as a student. But once she figured out the steps necessary to change her information, the process got easier.

“With the University and getting a lot of the more administrative things resolved, there was a whole lot of paperwork hoops to jump through,” Packer said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t too terrible once I had an idea of what I needed to do.”

Phoebe Shatzer, a graduate student studying security policy, said the disorganization of GW’s name change process has revealed the administration’s ignorance of transgender students’ identities.

Shatzer said she changed her name on her GWorld card last December, but the photo on the card is not representative of who she is now because it was taken before she came out. She said the photo appeared in an introductory slideshow for her Security in the Americas class, which made her feel uncomfortable and distracted her from the course material.

“The additional requirements put upon trans students kind of gets frustrating, and it’s one thing on top of so many other things that trans students have to deal with,” Shatzer said.

She said she keeps receiving University emails addressed to her deadname, but her professors have never deadnamed her. She said after she changed her name through the “chosen name change form,” the Office of Alumni Relations notified her that her name was updated for future alumni emails, but she would also have to change her name in the Banner system in another form to update her GW records.

“Administration-wise, it’s just really difficult and demeaning, and it really feels like the administration doesn’t hear you in those cases,” Shatzer said.

This post has been updated to correct the following:

Due to information from a source, The Hatchet incorrectly reported through a quote that Naomi Jones is still being deadnamed in communications from GW Libraries. Jones’ name has been updated in that system as of the start of the semester. We regret this error.

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About the Contributor
Ianne Salvosa, News Editor
Ianne Salvosa is a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editor for the Administration and Finance beat. She previously served as an assistant news editor for the Administration and Finance beat and a contributing news editor for the Academics and Administration beats for Vol. 119.
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