Transgender students fight for easier campus name change system

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Radio-television-film freshman Map Pesqueira changed his name prior to orientation and has been working with the Gender and Sexuality Center to simplify the process for the University to use a student’s preferred name, a name submitted once admitted. 

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

When students apply to UT, they submit their preferred name to the University, however once they are admitted, their legal name is used in the directory and on class rosters. The Gender and Sexuality Center has been working to make it easier for transgender students to change their University name to their preferred name, said Liz Elsen, director of the center.

Radio-television-film freshman Map Pesqueira met Elsen when he attended Lead UT, a day for admitted freshmen to explore the University. Elsen showed him the center’s resources and the Texas Name and Gender Marker Change Facebook group, which helped jump-start legally changing his gender marker and name.

“If it wasn’t for the group … I’m not sure it would have been as easy for me to get (my name changed) so quickly,” Pesqueira said. “That group is literally a lifesaver.”

Because Pesqueira had his legal name changed before orientation, he was also able to get his UT name changed before school started. However, current students who want to change their names with the University, even if they applied with a preferred name, have to get it changed through an in-person appointment with the center.

“If admissions already has that information, I think they should be able to share it with the registrar’s office, and it should be an official part of their UT file,” Elsen said in an email. “It seems surprising to me that they then need to go through this extra step when UT already has that information.”

UT does not have an option for students to add a preferred name with the University online, Elsen said. This differs from other Texas schools such as UT-Arlington, Texas Tech University, University of North Texas, Texas State University, UT-Dallas and University of Houston, which all offer an online option, Elsen said.

 

Unlike other schools such as Columbia University and Texas Tech, Elsen said UT-Austin students are not able to use a preferred name on their diploma. 

Pesqueira said the option for students to change their UT name is important because it can be stressful worrying about professors calling them the wrong name. 

“Someone’s identity is everything to them, and the way they present themselves and the way other people perceive them,” Pesqueira said. “That can make or break someone’s day and how they
are feeling.”

Research by Stephen Russell, a human development and family sciences professor, found young people who could use their preferred names at work, school, with friends and at home experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of depression, 34 percent fewer symptoms of suicidal ideation and a 65 percent decrease in attempted suicide compared to those who were not able to use their names.

“Names are a central part of our identities — and are often gendered,” Russell said. “Using a preferred or new name is an important step for any person, and the ability to use the name that matches the outward expression of our identity, is crucial for a positive sense of self.”

Elsen said this issue is important because it’s the University’s job to support all students, including those who identify as transgender and non-binary students.

“UT lost one of our amazing trans students to suicide a few years ago, and I’m still feeling the loss,” Elsen said. “They deserve to have their names and pronouns respected.”