At the start of next semester, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Information Technology and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity will launch the first phase of the Lived Name Initiative, an effort to better accommodate trans and non-binary students, as well as others who don’t go by their legal name. The product of four years of collaboration between departments and offices across campus, the initiative will allow students to indicate a lived name on the enrollment form that will then become the default name in almost all of the College’s online systems.
A lived name is a name that a student goes by that is different from their legal name. Some of Bowdoin’s peer institutions, such as Amherst and Williams, have implemented similar initiatives that they call “preferred name policies,” according to Peter Wiley, director of business intelligence and data warehousing.
Wiley has worked with Kate Stern, associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion, to manage the project’s scope, implementation, structure, communication and delivery. Based on feedback about how the term “preferred name” can be perceived, the planning committee felt “lived name” was a better choice.
“‘Preferred name’ is linked sometimes to ‘preferred sexuality,’ which is something that we’ve been trying to push away,” said Stern.
She added that the planning groups also liked the simplicity of the phrase “lived name.”
“It’s just the name you go by,” Stern said. “And there’s power in that.”
According to an informational flyer about the Lived Name Initiative, once a student indicates a lived name on the enrollment form at the start of the spring semester, it will automatically become the default name in Polaris, Blackboard, Workday, the online directory and DegreeWorks and the Bowdoin email display name. A legal name would only be used in systems that require it, including student employment, the Bursar’s Office and Student Aid, which are all associated with a Social Security number.
Stern said that she initially became involved in the project in support of trans and non-binary students who started going by a different name during their time at Bowdoin. While students have been able to submit a request to the Office of the Registrar to change the name they go by in the past, that involved a face-to-face conversation, and the Registrar did not have the ability to change the student’s name in all of the College’s systems.
“We know there’s a heavy burden of having to come out and having to share who you are, and we wanted to create a system where you didn’t have to come out to anyone,” Stern said. “[With Lived Name], you could at 3 a.m. go fill out a form … and the systems would all connect.”
The project also aims to address the needs of students and faculty who do not identify as trans or non-binary, but who use a name other than their legal name.
“It’s really become important for international students who might go by a different name on campus, students who go by their middle name on campus, faculty and staff who might go by a married or maiden name,” Stern said. “So it’s become a much bigger piece of inclusivity.”
Instead of the enrollment form, which is only completed by students, faculty and staff will be able to access the Lived Name Initiative through Workday. A student can also change their name in the College’s systems at a later point in the semester by filling out the Student Biographical Change Form. The form is currently on the Office of the Registrar’s website, but after mid-January, a new version will be available that will allow for updates to Lived Name.
Phase two of the Lived Name Initiative will allow students to provide a pronoun on the enrollment form that aligns with their identity, which will then be integrated into other online systems across the College. Stern and Wiley haven’t determined when this next step will launch.
Wiley explained that the idea for a phased approach to Lived Name came from research he conducted about the implementation of similar policies at the College’s peer institutions. The laborious process of coordinating online systems across the College requires work and coordination on the part of many different departments, all of which take up a tremendous amount of time.
“There’s a lot of complexity in the data integrations on campus,” Wiley said. “Many departments have their own system, so the success of this process is really dependent upon these systems integrating Lived Name across campus.”
Stern explained that, while the process has been long and complicated, she has been heartened by the campus’s reaction to the initiative.
“We’ve met with, I want to say, over 30 departments,” she said. “Everyone is in, everyone is supportive, everyone wants to make it happen.”