The Power of a Name

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A name can be a tricky thing, especially when the one a person goes by is different than the one on their legal documents.

Chemeketa recognizes this. Recently, a preferred name policy was implemented at the college where any student is allowed to use their preferred name in place of their legal name for college activities. This policy aims to support Chemeketa’s transgender and gender-neutral populations that could be alienated by the usage of their legal names, as well as any student looking at any name change for some other reason.

According to Chemeketa’s website, “Chemeketa Community College recognizes that many students use names other than their legal first name to identify themselves. Chemeketa supports the use of preferred first name for students, while still maintaining the use of legal name required for academic records and data integrity. Our intent is to support the transgender and gender-neutral population at Chemeketa [and] the desire for a casual name reference from the Chemeketa population at large.”

LeAnna Crawford, a writing instructor at Chemeketa, explained what impacts this policy might have in her classroom.

“The impacts that I forsee are that there won’t have to be any weird moments where I say things like, ‘John’ and someone says ‘No, my name’s Lucy.’ That’s useful in a whole handful of ways. Especially because I actually get to know my students’ names. It probably would be less impactful for teachers who don’t do that,” Crawford said.

The entire process is made as simple as possible, requiring only a single sheet form that can be found on the enrollment section of Chemeketa’s website. Cary Ballew-Renfro, advisor of the Triangle Club on the Salem campus, bookstore employee, and current chairman of the Diversity Advisory Commission, said, “It’s, in my way of thinking designed very elegantly.”

Ballew-Renfro brought up more than just the design; he discussed how helpful the policy could be to students, cisgender and transgender alike.

“Because not everybody is welcoming to the idea of all of a sudden realizing that this cute girl that you’re sitting next to wasn’t a girl three years ago,” he said when asked when and what brought the policy about, “some people might find that very upsetting. So, to avoid situations like that where people are made uncomfortable and where people are forced to reveal private information that they don’t want to reveal is one of the reasons that this policy came into effect.”

As for how the policy could be helpful towards cisgendered people, Ballew-Renfro brought up the example of his mother. “As my mother was growing up, her legal name…she always went by her middle name. Everybody knew her by her middle name but, you know, legally it’s not her first name. On all of her documents it’s on her first name and when the government calls her, social security… they always address her by her first name and it’s like ‘No that’s not her name.’”

The process of implementing the policy initially started a few years ago with the main head of the project being Vivi Caleffi Prichard. According to Ballew-Renfro, there is a committee focused on the gender identity and sexual minorities community and on addressing how to make the college a more welcoming and diverse place. It was also around the same time that the committee also discussed gender neutral bathrooms.

The preferred first name policy doesn’t address pronouns. However, when asked about it, Ballew-Renfro mentioned faculty safe zone trainings where pronouns were brought up: “They encourage instructors just to say, ‘Okay these are the pronouns that I use. Introduce yourself and tell us the pronouns that you use.’ And if you email Vivi and you get an email back from her, in her signature line she’ll tell you what pronouns she uses. So she’s modelling that.”

It seems that the announcement of the policy hadn’t been seen as widespread as first thought. Student Morgan Distler said, “I first heard about the preferred name policy about three weeks ago. I just had heard it mentioned between two coworkers talking out here in the library.”

Crawford said, “From my perspective, it was sort of out of the blue even though I recognize within my classes I’ve had a lot more people who go by a name other than their given name…I mean, I know that we got the announcement and I imagine that students also got the announcement, though I don’t really pay attention to the announcements that come to students.”

The overall reaction to the policy seems positive, with it only having a few possible technical barriers. There was more concern about getting the word out to students. Distler suggested putting the announcement of the policy on the paper tents that sometimes stand in the middle of study tables around campus, or putting the announcement up on the walls near where other notices and flyers hang.

“Hopefully the people to whom it might be a life or death thing have access to that information.” Ballew-Renfro

The Triangle Club is Chemeketa’s LGBTQ+ club and safe space for any LGBTQ+ community at the college, whose meetings take place on Thursdays from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Bldg. 2, Room 229.

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