Students speak on experience changing preferred identities
By Amethyst Martinez
Senior Isaiah Banks, who changed his Rider documentation to his preferred identity this school year, described the switch as an affirmation he “needed.”
In an effort to allow students to align their identity with multiple Rider communication aspects, the university offers an option to change to a preferred name, gender and pronouns through the MyRider portal.
“It just kind of makes me feel more at peace with myself that I can go to class and not be called by my dead name,” said Banks, a game design major.
The option came into fruition in 2017 when the university created a committee for the issue, and began to allow preferred name and gender specifications in electronic systems in 2018, according to Christine Melhourn, associate dean of students.
As updates have been made to the process since its inception, a variety of things have been added to give faculty, staff and students the opportunity to align their lived identity with certain functions at the university.
One example is the name-changing process, which, according to the university website, will automatically allow students to change their preferred name to appear on class lists, faculty grading, the student advising profile, DegreeWorks and Canvas. It can also be requested to appear on identification cards and diplomas, along with email addresses.
Nick Kelly-Wilson, a junior English major, changed her name in the system before she arrived at Rider three years ago, and called the experience “beneficial” to her mental health.
“I have a lot of trauma behind my previous name, so being given the option to go by my preferred name from the getgo is super important,” said Kelly-Wilson. “The ability to be able to identify yourself and brand yourself as who you are and not have to correct people over and over on simple things is so important and allows people to focus on things other than past traumas.”
The preferred name process does have its limitations, however. On certain documents, legal names still need to be displayed, such as transcripts, enrollment certifications, degree verification requests, financial aid records, health insurance, student financial accounts, payroll and reimbursement check requests. Sue Stefanick, the university registrar, said that this was due to legal limitations. She also emphasized that anyone can change their name in the portal without ever even having to visit the registrar’s office.
“It’s a great opportunity to have people identify the way they want to be identified with their preferred name,” said Stefanick. “Then, of course, if a student legally changes their name, then we can make the change on other documents.”
Cecilia Simon, a sophomore political science major, said that sometimes her deadname shows up on certain university systems, including MyRider, the same portal that she used to update her information last year. A deadname is a term used to describe a name a person no longer goes by.
“The cost of getting the name change request into the system is easy enough, the problem is the universality of it,” said Simon. “Whenever my deadname comes up, it makes me uncomfortable.”
Melhourn blamed this on systems outside of the university’s control, including MyRider. She said that new systems are planned to be put in place to better reflect Rider’s values on the topic.
“As we get new systems in place, it’s going to be sure that that’s a priority,” said Melhourn. “Anyone who’s touched by this issue sees it as a priority and something that we want to make sure we get right.”
Simon said she will sometimes get emails with her dead name from certain organizations that pull their files from the registrars legal name records, which Melhourn said is being fixed as issues are brought to the university’s attention.
“It’s a thing of validating people’s identities and ensuring the comfort of students,” said Simon.
Rider’s Student Government Association (SGA)recently posted an infographic on their Instagram explaining the preferred identity changing process to students in what SGA’s Vice President for Communications Kayla Wagner described as trying to “illustrate that the process was not daunting or difficult.”
“Overall, I wanted to emphasize that students can easily update their personal information to reflect their preferred name and identity across many of the systems we use daily at Rider,” said Wagner, a senior digital marketing major.
Emily Porter Siegel, a sophomore English literature major, who goes by they/them pronouns, said they found out about the option through the infographic made by SGA.
“Basic human decency is addressing people how they want to be addressed,” said Siegel. “The ability to go in and change your preferred name and your preferred pronouns is the bare minimum. … I hate that it wasn’t something that was presented to me the moment I came to this school.”
Andrew Bernstein, senior political science major and SGA president emphasized that SGA’s efforts are “always centered on creating a safe environment for students,” including making graphics about issues like the identity-changing process. He said there were two goals: “that students feel included by being able to identify with their lived/preferred name in university communications” and “students aren’t outed by email addresses that use their dead name.”
Siegel said, “That’s like also a question of I didn’t know if it existed before the SGA infographic.” Siegel outlined the struggles that transgender students at Rider face, not only for themselves, but for others.
“I am in rage a lot of [the] time, not only for myself, but for all of my trans[gender] siblings at Rider,” said Siegel. “Trans[gender] people are nothing new.”