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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022

ITS, ODEI work to display accurate names and pronouns in college systems

For many transgender and nonbinary students, updating and having their names properly displayed on Middlebury’s online platforms had been a complicated struggle. In the past year, however, with collaboration between Information and Technology Services (ITS) and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), the college has made strides toward protecting and affirming student’s gender identities, specifically through adjusting online platforms to properly display students’ names.

Some transgender and nonbinary students’ names do not match the legal name that appears on state- or federally-issued IDs and documentation; when this legal name does not match their name, some transgender and nonbinary students refer to this legal name as a deadname.  Middlebury offers students an option to update their name in BannerWeb to ensure that college systems reflect their chosen name rather than their deadname, but many have struggled to see that change accurately update across all systems. 

In the past, students have reported being inadvertently outed to their peers or their professors

because when they change their name on BannerWeb, the change does not always get carried over to other platforms — or when it does, it often gets displayed in parentheses after their deadname. Recent changes have aimed to reduce such issues and make the process for updating names and pronouns more inclusive.

“For example, if a student has entered a chosen name in BannerWeb, that is the only name that faculty members will see,” Renee Wells, assistant vice president of education for equity and inclusion, said in an email to The Campus.

Some offices on campus, such as Student Financial Services, need access to both chosen names and deadnames for administrative purposes, and Wells has worked with ITS to develop a list of guidelines to help ensure students are not unintentionally misnamed, misgendered or outed.

“I still can't change my middle initial in BannerWeb, which causes problems whenever I send my transcript somewhere for a scholarship,” said Francis Shiner ’23. “The name on my transcript doesn't match the name on my personal email, which leads to confusion.”

Correcting the display of students’ names is complicated by the fact that Middlebury

continually adopts software programs produced by outside vendors, and outsourced online platforms have very different levels of priority for this technical feature. 

“Now we have a process in place for telling vendors that chosen name capability is something we need,” Assistant Vice President and Chief Information Officer Vijay Menta said in an email to The Campus. 

As part of ITS’s current operation, any new software programs and systems should receive updates students make in BannerWeb. Although some software makers have already incorporated this into their programs, others have not. The current challenge is to ensure that new programs and software are capable of accommodating student name changes, which, according to Menta, “will be an ongoing process and will take time before many of our current systems can accommodate the chosen name fully.”

“I still see my given name every time I enter Oracle to log my work hours, or when I register for classes in Banner9, or I check my grades in BannerWeb,” Shiner said. “Panopto, Canvas and Handshake list my correct name, which feels nice.”

According to Wells and Menta, feedback from students was a key aspect in making effective improvements. ITS and ODEI are having regular project status meetings to review their progress, and ITS encourages students to reach out to Wells in ODEI and discuss their specific concerns confidentially. 

Wells and ITS also worked together to revise the form for entering or updating student information. Students can now enter their pronouns with the updated text-entry option instead of a predetermined list of options, allowing them to enter pronouns like he/him, ze/hir or she/they. Students will also have an option to enter a prefix in lieu of selecting a default prefix such as “Ms.” or “Mr.” In the future, students will also be able to indicate whether or not their chosen name and pronouns can be used for communications with parents/legal guardians and other external communications.

In the Middlebury community, there is a range of awareness about and experience using pronouns inclusively, especially nonbinary pronouns. According to Wells, many members of the campus community, including faculty and staff, are not accustomed to using these pronouns and make mistakes, which has a significant impact on feelings of inclusion and belonging for trans and nonbinary students. 

“It is important for those of us for whom this is new to intentionally increase our ability to consciously and consistently use the pronouns that affirm each individual on campus,” Wells said. Ensuring that databases display students names and pronouns correctly helps facilitate this.

In October, the Senior Leadership Group unanimously endorsed ITS’s plans to continue

investing in resources and education on displaying students’ chosen names in online systems.

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“I am confident that with our commitment and the Middlebury community’s support, we will be able to improve many of our systems for students in the future,” Menta said.


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