Elgin Community College’s transgender and gender nonconforming students are currently unable to indicate their preferred name and pronouns on D2L, the programming system the college uses to conduct all of its virtual classes. Currently, D2L profile names reflect those on the official class roster which is connected to the student’ss legal name on all of their records at ECC.
The campus Gender Management Project hopes to allow students the option to designate a preferred name and preferred pronouns to show up on their D2L account by the Spring 2021 semester.
Reese Walton, a transgender student who has been at ECC for about 4 years, is vice president of SWANS, the campus LGBTQ+ advocacy group. Walton thinks the school’s changes show respect to transgender and gender nonconforming students and will help in their academic success.
“It makes people uncomfortable to be dead named and misgendered and once people are comfortable they can focus on their academics and succeed,” Walton said. “Really it’s the basics of respecting people’s names and pronouns. A lot of trans and non-gender binary people don’t expect much more. We just want to have our name and identity respected. The students at ECC are good at that and ECC has good policies on that, but it’s basic human respect.”
ECC’s Gender Management Project announced the goal for a Spring 2021 rollout to the student body in late September via email. While the project is on track with the current timeline, some faculty and students hoped it would have been completed by the Fall 2020 semester.
“[The project]” wasn’t done quickly enough so that when we all had to go online, students didn’t find themselves misgendered and [misnamed],” said Lori Clark, a professor of English at ECC and part of the Gender Management Project.
The project is urgent to Clark because the effects of not being able to use a preferred name in online classes are severe.
“If a student doesn’t feel safe in a classroom [because] at any moment someone [may] use the wrong pronoun or name… a student [might] drop the class… or not want to participate,” Clark said. “There are a lot of trans and gender nonconforming students who drop out of college because of the lack of support they [receive].”
Clark recently completed her doctorate in education and did her dissertation on transgender and gender nonconforming students who attend community colleges. During the process of writing her dissertation, she interviewed transgender and gender nonconforming students across the country.
“One of the biggest issues trans and gender nonconforming students [voiced] was that when they would take online classes [they were not] able to use their proper name,” Clark said. “So they were outed by students and once other students noticed they were trans or gender nonconforming they got hostility. Some students [I interviewed] wouldn’t take classes online because they were not able to use their proper name or choose a pronoun.”
Clark is vocal on campus in expressing how the campus could be more supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and knows that being misgendered and addressed incorrectly causes stress to students.
“In the trans community that birth name is called your dead name,” Clark said. “If you don’t identify with the name you were born with because you don’t identify with that gender now and you’ve got someone using that name, it can do a lot psychologically. A lot of the students in my study said the issues they faced on their community college campus [included] panic attacks and anxiety attacks.”
While the project is important and urgent, John Long, the assistant dean of student success and judicial affairs at ECC wants people to know that the process has been more involved than it may seem. Challenges due to COVID-19 and complex technology have made it a difficult task to complete.
“I think people sometimes think that all ECC had to do was make a decision to allow students to select a preferred name and their preferred pronoun, but there was just a ton of technology that needed to get up to date to be able to accommodate the decision that the college made,” Long said. “This has been an incredibly involved and deliberate process because ECC is a huge and very complex organization.”
There are many systems on campus that are interdependent on one another in complex ways or completely disconnected from one another. Making sure all of the systems are updated individually to accommodate preferred names is a long process that will not be completely finished by the Spring 2021semester.
Kelly Scott, director of student academic systems at ECC said that the Gender Management Project is her first priority, although it’s not a matter of just putting student’s preferred names into D2L.
The Gender Management Project worked on identifying things that impacted students the most and focused the group’s attention on those systems first. The second phase of the project is on the less student-facing systems. Although in some places names will not be changed for legal reasons such as on financial aid documents, transcripts, and student worker’s payroll.
“There will be a lot of pieces that will not be done by January,” Scott said. “There are hundreds of systems that need to be adjusted and my team is committed for the entire calendar year of 2021 to start making other changes. For example, the disabilities office has software that still uses legal names, but we will be working to make sure names are changed there. Also, communications that come out of the registration or admissions office, those won’t be changed [by Spring 2021].”
As the project continues Reese Walton hopes that ECC keeps students’ needs in mind and makes sure to listen because open communication helps keeps things moving quickly.
“Keeping open the line of communication between gender diverse students with the college is important so that when new problems arise it can be quickly addressed,” Walton said.