Imagine it is the first day of class and the professor is giving out roll call. When he gets to your last name on the list, he calls out a different first name. After a moment of silent confusion, you call out that that is your last name, but you go by a different first name. Students turn around in their seats to look at you, and you have to quickly explain why your name on the roll call sheet is not the name you go by. Awkward, right?
At the University of Minnesota, scores of students experience this at the beginning of every semester. Students whose legal name reflects a different gender than the one they identify as, international students who go by a name that is easier for American professors to pronounce, or students who simply choose to go by their middle name all have to run the proverbial gauntlet of explaining why their legal name is not what their friends and families call them.
This can be an extremely uncomfortable experience. It can cause anxiety, and for some students, essentially force them to out themselves to their professors or classmates. This is an unnecessary experience, so MPIRG’s Equality Task Force decided to do something about it.
Spearheaded by Ross Anders, the UMTC Equality Task Force leader, the task force undertook a mission to get a preferred name option on University documents and roll call sheets. Last fall, task force members met with registrar officials to begin a conversation about adding a preferred name option to relieve anxiety and difficult experiences for so many students.
Over the past several months, the task force collected 2,034 signatures on a petition to add a preferred name option and spent over 70 hours tabling and talking to students around campus about why this is such an important issue. They also had student groups and department heads sign 24 formal support letters.
All of these grassroots measures made a huge difference. Earlier this month, registrar officials confirmed to MPIRG that starting in early 2015, there will be a preferred name option on class rosters and grading rosters.
This is a huge victory for MPIRG! Congratulations to Ross and the hardworking Equality Task Force for their efforts in seeing this through!