Binghamton University is planning to introduce a new update to its database that will allow students to change their names in all University systems that do not require the use of a legal name.
The update aims to accommodate students of all genders and identities, and comes after the passage of a new ordinance in New York City that allows gender-nonconforming residents to designate their gender with the letter “X” on their birth certificate, rather than “M” for male or “F” for female. According to Kelly Clark, director of BU’s Q Center, the update will also come with a new policy allowing name changes in the University system.
“We are in the process of developing a new policy,” Clark wrote in an email. “In fact, the policy is just about done, however, [we] are waiting for the upgrade to the database systems that will allow the policy for name changes to go into effect. Our current databases do not have the capacity to hold a nickname or chosen name.”
The change is not the only one concerning gender to come to BU in the past several years. According to Clark, the Q Center has been working on a variety of policies to accommodate students of all genders by providing training sessions and working to increase the visibility of nonbinary pronoun usage featured in the classroom.
“We have been working over the last few years to recognize, respect and include people of all genders, including trans and gender-expansive and [nonbinary] employees and students,” Clark wrote. “We have developed a pronouns statement that faculty can adopt for their syllabus and provided some guidance on how to create a [gender-affirming] classroom. A number of departments on campus have updated the way they ask about gender on their forms.”
Additionally, the University currently offers gender-inclusive housing and gender-neutral restrooms, and in a meeting last month, BU’s Faculty Senate endorsed a SUNY resolution calling for gender-neutral language in all correspondence. The resolution, which was presented to the BU Faculty Senate by Barry Jones, chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, chair of the economics department and a professor of economics, calls for the use of the pronouns they, them and their, and passed almost unanimously.
But measures designed to promote gender neutrality and accommodate nonbinary students still face resistance from some. Christopher Hanes, a member of the Faculty Senate and a professor of economics, voted against the recent resolution because he believes the use of “they” as a singular pronoun is grammatically incorrect.
“It’s not about gender neutrality,” Hanes said. “It’s about grammar. It is telling them not to avoid gender-specific language — which you can do in many different ways — it’s telling them to use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun.”
In a study of transgender students at BU conducted last year by Winter Clark, ‘18, under the supervision of Dara Silberstein, a visiting assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, transgender respondents ranked the University’s policies regarding transgender students at 2.185 out of a possible five points. In the conclusion of the report, Winter Clark wrote that several transgender students had responded to the survey with experiences of professors ignoring their preferred pronouns and had expressed concern about the University’s current database.
“Transgender students wrote that they would like to see improvements to the name change process for class rosters and online communication,” Winter Clark wrote. “Multiple transgender students reported that even after changing their name in various systems, they were continually called by their old names.”
Kelly Clark wrote the database update aims to address these concerns, and will help the University accommodate new students who legally changed their gender under New York City’s new ordinance. Additionally, she wrote her office will continue to work toward improving BU’s policies regarding transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
“This is something I think most of SUNY is unprepared to deal with should students arrive in the fall having changed their genders over the summer,” Kelly Clark wrote. “We will also be working to create a best practice for asking gender on University forms.”