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Lived Name Initiative Phase II prioritizes pronoun choice

January 24, 2020

As students filled out their Enrollment Form upon their return to Bowdoin, they likely spotted a new question asking them to select what pronouns they wish to share with the Bowdoin community.

This was the second phase of the Lived Name Initiative, sponsored by Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Information Technology and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Last year, the first phase allowed students to conveniently to change their names on most College documents and resources to a name that better fits their identity.

Kate Stern, the director of the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender (SWAG), has been one of the driving forces behind the administrative change and is excited for what it means for gender non-conforming students.

“I think it is really important for students to be able to be seen as who they are, and for a lot of our students who identify as trans or non-binary or not cisgender in any way, pronouns are how we interact with each other. Pronouns are how we refer to each other,” Stern said. “So having a way that is simple and easy and also universal for not just some students, but all students, was a really important part of being able to let students be seen for who they are.”

In addition to selecting their pronouns on the Enrollment Form, students may update their pronouns at any time with an online form found on the Bowdoin website. Student pronouns will eventually be available on Polaris, Blackboard and the Bowdoin online directory if students give initial permission.

Transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary students have steadily received increased recognition from the school administration, starting ten years ago when the school converted all single-person gendered bathrooms to gender-neutral bathrooms.

Since then, the school has compiled a “trans-student guide” which includes helpful information for gender non-conforming students like a list of on- and off-campus resources and a directory of all the gender-inclusive bathrooms. The school has also created a policy stipulating that gender-inclusive bathrooms must be considered in all newly-constructed school bathrooms.

Recently, gender non-conforming students have also broken barriers in the Athletic Department. Last winter, Lex Horwitz ’19 joined the men’s squash team after previously playing on the women’s team for three years.

Sage Kashner ’22, who uses they/them pronouns and works as a student leader for SWAG, said the change moved the college in the right direction.

“It was a necessary step, obviously,” they said.

Stern added that the second phase of the lived name initiative couldn’t have happened with just SWAG.

“It was an inter-departmental effort, and there was a lot of leadership with both institutional research and IT to integrate the systems so that this could happen smoothly for our community,” she said.

Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, an assistant professor of English who uses they/them pronouns, and who recently published an op-ed entitled “Flying While Trans” in the New York Times, said they were happy to see the College respecting the importance of a person’s pronouns.

“Pronouns are no less an aspect of identity than a person’s name. This is all part of being seen for who one is in the world and being at home in the world, a crucial part of the Offer of the College. I’m thrilled to see Bowdoin take this next step with Phase II of the Lived Name Initiative and help all members of the College community be seen,” said Marzano-Lesnevich.

Stern is proud of Bowdoin’s leadership on issues of gender inclusivity.

“I talk to colleagues at other schools [where] you have to provide paperwork from either therapists or doctors. Bowdoin has never done that,” she said. “Bowdoin has said, you know who you are, and we want to reflect who you are, as opposed to creating additional barriers.”


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