Registrar proposes plan allowing students more flexibility with pronouns and gender identification

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Assisted by the College of William and Mary’s Office of the Compliance and Equity, the Office of the University Registrar has proposed a new, more flexible policy on preferred name, preferred pronoun and gender identity. This proposal allows students to use the names and pronouns that they identify with on class rosters, grade rosters and other third-party systems, regardless of whether a student has made legal changes to their identification.

“The Registrar proposed the policy to help further William and Mary’s commitment to the encouragement of self-expression and affirmation of identity for students,” College Spokesperson Suzanne Clavet said in a written statement.

“The Registrar proposed the policy to help further William and Mary’s commitment to the encouragement of self-expression and affirmation of identity for students,” College Spokesperson Suzanne Clavet said in a written statement.

The Office of the Registrar expects to be able to receive and store personal pronouns and gender identification information within a year. However, it is unclear whether it will be feasible for the College to make personal pronouns and gender identification available to faculty for classroom use through Banner. The policy stipulates that changes to name, pronoun and gender will be limited to one year, and any exceptions to this rule must be approved by the University Registrar.

“Students will also be able to relay their preference for name, pronoun or gender identity in person through the Registrar’s office and can also always relay them directly to their professors,” Clavet said.

However, to comply with federal law, the College will still be required to use a student’s legal name and sex on records for transaction, financial aid, medical documentation, transcripts, enrollment verifications and admissions.

Students and faculty commented on the proposed policy’s consequences around campus.

“The impact of this change is almost totally positive,” Professor Claire McKinney said. “From the faculty side, interacting with students based on their preferred names in the day to day is so common that sometimes seeing the legal name in blackboard or when entering grades is confusing. From the student side, I think this policy communicates the University’s respect for individual identity and experience that allows students with a range of reasons to express themselves differently than a narrow legalistic expression allows.”

Some students and faculty view the new policy as an essential mechanism for supporting and protecting transgender and nonbinary students at the College.

“Pronouns may seem minor, but they’re crucial for affirming transgender and nonbinary students’ identities,” professor Jonathan Branfman said. “When cisgender folks start new classes each semester, we rarely face the anxiety that anyone will misgender or misname us, or that we’ll have to explain our identities to colleagues we don’t yet know. William and Mary’s new proposed policy helps protect trans and nonbinary students from these challenges, so they can enjoy the same smooth welcome as cisgender classmates. In other words, this policy helps trans and nonbinary students access rights, comfort and recognition that cisgender students have always received.”

Students like Bradley Wilding ’21 see the proposed policy as a step in the right direction to ensure more inclusivity on campus.

“I support the new policy on preferred name, pronoun and gender identity,” Wilding said. “As a cisgender male, I know I have privilege and acceptance in every environment I am in, which I know is not the case for transgender and non-binary people. Although I am not personally impacted by the policy, I can’t be apathetic to the issue. In fact, I think it is telling of a person when they take issue with gender identity as if treating others humanely is debatable. Transitioning is hard, especially when it can mean ostracization, and it costs me nothing to extend respect and empathy. As a transfer student it is pleasing to see William and Mary’s dedication in promoting a more inclusive experience for its students. I was particularly impressed with how inviting the Orientation Aides were with gender, asking us for our pronouns to normalize the experience for non-cisgender students.” 

The first version of the policy will be available for review and online comments until Oct. 9. Once opportunities for public comment have ended, the College will consider and review feedback from the campus community. Changes to the policy can be made by the Compliance & Equity Office before it is sent to the president or the provost for approval. The Office of the University Registrar also holds the authority to revise or eliminate parts of the policy when approved by the provost.

“I do know that William and Mary has other policies, such as the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms and regarding housing choices, that are moving towards making a more gender-inclusive space,” McKinney said. “These efforts are not perfect and do not always result in necessary follow-through…But these policies can and should be followed by more efforts to ensure that William and Mary promotes gender equality in all spaces of student, faculty, staff, administrative and community interaction.”