What's in a name?: UB officials rollout name change policy

Policy enacted in June allows students to set a preferred name


Students who wish to be called by a name that is different from their birth name now have the option to do so.

In early June, President Tripathi signed the Student Preferred Name Policy, allowing students to enter their preferred first or middle name into HUB. Preferred names will appear in various UB systems including Digication, staff rosters and UBLearns.

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of the Registrar led the campaign to create the policy. Together, they worked to provide an easy-to-use option within HUB to change names if a student wishes to do so.

The policy change affects numerous groups of students on campus.

Students in the LGBTQ community may have gender identities that don’t match their legal name. Students who wish to be recognized by names consistent with their gender identities can now easily change their preference.

Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion said the policy has been in the works since 2015 and she’s happy that UB is becoming more inclusive and accommodating of students’ needs.

“This originated with a need that our transgender population had,” Nolan-Weiss said. “Chances are if you're transgender, the name you were given at birth doesn’t match up with your current gender identity. Without a way to have a preferred name changed students would have to email their professors every semester and out themselves.”

Students may not feel comfortable confronting their professors about changing their names, according to Nolan-Weiss.

“A student may not know what kind of response coming out to a professor may receive,” Nolan-Weiss said. “Generally, professors respond very positively to this, but it's still a step that would cause students to out themselves, which they may not want to do.”

The response from students who have used the program has been positive.

Tanner Miller, a sophomore English major, is a transgender student who encountered difficulties when he wanted to use his preferred name at UB.

“Last year, I had to come out to all my professors and they were always accepting, but it was always extra work,” Miller said. “I always felt more comfortable once my professors started calling me Tanner.”

After the policy was signed in June, Miller’s adviser emailed him the link to the preferred name change on HUB. Miller said the process was easy; within 24 hours of filling it out, he received a conformation email that the change was successful.

“It's been so nice. On the first day of classes, all my professors said ‘Tanner’ during attendance and there haven’t been any issues yet,” Miller said. “I love UB. They’ve been so accommodating with installing gender-neutral bathrooms and this policy. When I tell professors that I’m trans, they make a note to use the right pronouns and are OK with me coming out to them.”

The recent changes come at a time when UB is trying to adapt to the needs of the transgender community and provide the student body with a comfortable environment both in and outside the classroom.

While Miller commends the school for its efforts, he found out about the policy through his academic adviser. He thinks an email should be sent to the student body advertising the new option.

“They should send emails to the student LGBTQ community. Some people might know already, but I think the policy should be advertised better,” Miller said. “If all the LGBTQ students are aware, clubs and organizations on campus could make posters so that more people know about their options.”

The policy also affects international students who feel students and staff will have an issue pronouncing their birth name and wish to adopt a new name that is easier for others to pronounce.

The policy is open to all students, even students who prefer to use their middle name or a nickname instead of their birth name.

“Sometimes international students find that people have a tough time pronouncing their birth name and want to use a name that is easier for people to pronounce,” Nolan-Weiss said. “The policy was intended for transgender students but has a widespread benefit for a lot of people.”

Students who do not need to use the program are also in support of the policy change. Cole Mazzo, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said he expected UB to automatically include an option for students to change their preferred name and was surprised the rule just went into effect.

“The policy makes sense. I wouldn't imagine that any other way,” Mazzo said. “What if you have a nickname that you prefer? Some people don't respond to their full name or prefer a name that’s easier for professors and classmates to use.”

Mazzo thinks the change should have come sooner and doesn’t understand why it took the university so long to provide this option.

“[Gender identity] is an important issue, but changing your name is something that I never even thought about,” Mazzo said. “I just assumed that UB had an option for students to change their name if they wanted to.”

Students are still required to use their legal last names and, in some cases, students must still use their birth names. For bills, tax information, diplomas, transcripts immigration documents, medical records and other official documents, students are required to use their legal birth names.

Max Kalnitz is the senior features editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com