STAFF EDITORIAL: Name changes mean a lot

“As of January 7, 2009, you can now change your legal first name to a preferred name in the BANNER system.”That was the beginning of a recent e-mail to the student body from the registrar’s office.Now, students are able to choose a preferred first name in the University’s BANNER system, automatically changing how their first name appears in places such as class lists and grade reports.Furthermore, students can also elect to have the name displayed in the UVM directory, their ID card and as their webmail address.Most students won’t notice or perhaps the more adventurous might brainstorm with their roommates and change from John Smith to Tom Cruise Smith for a laugh.But for some, it is a big deal. The University is wising up to an issue that might not be as serious to many, but is incredibly serious to some.For transgender, gender-variant and/or transsexual students, this name change means a lot. If you identify as a male, but every e-mail you send from your webmail, every transcript you check and even your student identification card bears the reminder of your previous female identity – or vice-versa – it’s one more setback toward societal acceptance.With the name change also comes an important option, the preferred pronoun. Not only does this create more self-determination and acceptance, but it makes it easier on the rest of the University to overcome our heterosexual mindset that leaves us stumbling and constantly putting our feet in our mouth and, more importantly, marginalizing our peers.The gender-neutral bathrooms, campus housing options and gym locker options that the University has provided are an incredibly forward thinking and open-minded move, particularly in comparison to many other public universities in the nation, but the name change is probably the biggest step yet.Bathrooms, locker rooms and housing are all options that cover a student’s private life. A name is the most public part of a student’s life other than their appearance. Letting students choose how they will be addressed is a step in the right direction.At a school that puts so much stock in diversity and self-identity, this is the University’s proof that they actually want to grant its students some self-determination.And for those who still don’t see what the fuss is about. Look around you. Walk down your hall; look around the Davis Center. Open your eyes. Somebody you know is breathing easier because this change has been made.