For students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, being known by their preferred names just got easier.
On June 1, UWM enacted a preferred name, or name-in-use system for all registered students. The option allows students to use preferred first and/or middle names that differ from their legal names across select university systems. Preferred names will appear on things like class rosters, grade reports, and online student directories. Legal names will still be used and required for things like official transcripts, financial aid, ID cards, and student employment documents.
The push for a preferred name system comes from the university’s transgender and gender non-conforming students. Sarah DeGeorge, outreach coordinator for the UWM LGBT Resource Center, says it simply makes it easier for these students to be recognized by the names they most identify with. “Before this, you would have to go to instructors individually and let them know everything. Doing that four to six times every semester can be pretty stressful, and not a fun process.”
According to DeGeorge, the system also solves the problem of students personally introducing themselves to instructors by their preferred names, but still showing up in online class materials under their legal names. “The rest of the class would be able to see their legal names, and they’d be outed that way,” DeGeorge says.
Back in March, Jennifer Murray, director of the UWM LGBT Resource Center, further explained the then-nascent system to public radio station WUWM: “That would be very honoring for students to not have to go through the process of outing themselves through an e-mail every semester to let this professor know that this is the name I use, and this is how I want you to refer to me in terms of my pronouns. It would just be an actual seamless process where it would automatically show up that way on the class roster and internal documents to the university.”
Though trans students led the charge for the new system, DeGeorge says another on-campus group will benefit: international students. “UWM has a lot of students visiting from other countries, and a lot of them have names that aren’t familiar in the English language. They end up picking an Americanized version of their name and going by that. They’ll actually be the ones that probably use this the most,” she says.
For now, the preferred name system only applies to UWM students—not instructors or staff. Still, DeGeorge sees it as a positive step in the right direction. “This kind of makeshift solution is going to be a big help to a lot of students,” she says.
UWM isn’t alone in implementing a preferred name system. Other universities—especially ones with strong LGBT programs—have already led the way. “It’s starting to become more common at bigger universities with a lot of resources: the University of Michigan, Princeton, Harvard,” DeGeorge says. “You can probably expect this to start trickling down and becoming very commonplace in schools within the next five years.
“UWM isn’t the first, but we’re certainly ahead of the curve.”
More information on UWM’s preferred name system can be found here.