Beginning August 2016, Plattsburgh State will enforce a “preferred first name” policy for students and employees as an effort to create a more inclusive environment on campus.
The policy, established by Director of the Career Development Center Julia Overton-Healy in coordination with the federal Title IX law, allows students and staff to use a first name of their choosing throughout the PSUC community.
Overton-Healy said she worked with PSUC Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise to develop the policy in order to create a more inclusive space for people on campus.
“She (Blaise) and I have been working together to identify some things that need some attention to make the campus more inclusive for a wide variety of people, and that would include even what may seem like a small thing for other people — but your name — and that matters,” Overton-Healy said.
The policy was also created in collaboration with PSUC’s Safe Space organization.
“This is the kind of thing that Safe Space is all about — developing a more inclusive, unbiased, supportive and even celebratory environment for the various gender and sexual orientation identities on campus,” Event Planning and Safe Space Project Assistant Nick Kelley said.
PSUC Health Educator and Outreach Coordinator Rhema Lewis said the policy was created to support a more gender-inclusive environment on campus.
“Students are able to feel safer on the campus and I think that they are able to really live as they chose to and live as their whole selves,” Lewis said.
Overton-Healy said the preferred first names would be recognized throughout “inwardly facing communication from the institution to the individual.” This includes the MyPlattsburgh portal, mail and email from PSUC, housing lists and class rosters.
A student’s preferred name would also be shown on the front of his or her PSUC Cardinal Card, with his or her legal name printed on the back.
Overton-Healy said the only limitations on first names would include profane language, hate speech or unpronounceable names such as symbols.
“We try to identify places where the institution communicates with students in a more personalized way, and that’s why we said the preferred first name should be used,” Overton-Healy said.
Although she does not have an exact number of students planning to use the policy, Overton-Healy think the policy could benefit international students and students involved in the LGBTQ community on campus.
“It recognizes and validates individual’s identities, and it shows that we will include, and basically recognize, you for who you are,” Kelley said.
PSUC political science senior and LGBTQ* Student Union Treasurer Famous Tillman said the policy could benefit the transgender community.
“One of the complication that come with being trans is your birth name can literally feel like a transgression or something that keep you from realizing the gender that you identify as, the gender that you feel comfortable in,” Tillman said. “If you force students to have that name it can be very upsetting.”
Tillman called the policy a “step in the right direction” in making transgender students feel more welcomed on campus. He also said it provides students a chance to inform professors about their preferred first names before the start of classes each semester, making it easier and more comfortable to acknowledge the change.
“As one of the people involved in Safe Space, I think what it does is say that we really are advocating on behalf of our students and that we hear you,” Lewis said. “I hope that it’s a step in building better relationships with our students where they feel they are able to share with us.”
Email Marissa Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org