restricted access Expanding Agency: Centering Gender Identity in College and University Student Records Systems
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Expanding Agency:
Centering Gender Identity in College and University Student Records Systems

For many years, I felt that my gender identity did not quite reflect who I was; however, I was not able to verbalize or even completely conceptualize this feeling until my third year of doctoral study. At the 2015 ACPA Convention, I attended an educational session where space was held for trans folx in the audience. After attending this session, I felt empowered to share my gender identity as genderqueer with a small group of friends and colleagues at the Convention. Upon return to the University of Iowa (UI), I shared my gender identity with friends and colleagues at my institution. I started asking people, including faculty whose courses I was taking, to refer to me with genderneutral pronouns. I realized that UI had no policies or procedures in place for students to share their pronouns with faculty or staff, so I decided to contact all of my professors to let them know about my pronouns in the hopes that they would accurately use them. Despite being a doctoral student in a program where I knew all the program faculty, I still felt nervous contacting each person.

Unfortunately, most trans* students must repeatedly share their name and pronouns each semester with a new set of faculty, a situation that can range from uncomfortable to dangerous (Beemyn, Curtis, Davis, & Tubbs, 2005). Upon realizing that UI lacked policies and procedures for students to share their gender identity and pronouns with faculty and staff, I started inquiring about how to create gender-expansive policies.

This article details the process we—a doctoral student at the time, and a faculty member—engaged in to change the ways the university asks for and reports student name, gender pronouns, sex, and gender identity. One year after we initiated the process to create new policy, changes were actualized in the University student records systems and admission applications.

CONTEXTS FOR INITIATING CHANGE

There is a burgeoning body of literature on the experiences of trans* collegians that tells a coherent story: the campus climate for trans* students is not supportive or affirming and is often hostile and unwelcoming (see Beemyn & Brauer, 2015; McKinney, 2005; Nicolazzo, 2016; Rankin, Weber, Blumenfeld, & Frazer, 2010). Trans* students face messages and practices that promote compulsory heterogenderism (Nicolazzo, 2017) at all important junctures of the college-going process, from high school guidance counseling to the admission application process, from college [End Page 359] transition to college engagement (Marine, 2017). Trans* students are emotionally and physically exhausted from having to constantly face the gender binary discourse on campus (Nicolazzo, 2016).

Despite overall negative climates in educational contexts, another emerging body of literature illustrates the ways trans* college students engage kinship networks as pathways to successfully navigate oppressive collegiate contexts (Nicolazzo, 2016). More specifically, trans* college students have found and have created kinship networks in material, virtual, and affective domains (Nicolazzo, Pitcher, Renn, & Woodford, 2017).

While trans* students have mobilized resiliency in environments where their gender identities are not recognized and affirmed, "education efforts to improve understanding and acceptance of transgender people are crucial" (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2016, p. 5). College student educators have the potential to assuage the burden faced by trans* students in college, including faculty whose central role in fostering college student success has long been established in the higher education literature (see Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). For trans* college students in one study, students whose faculty used their name and pronouns correctly perceived their faculty as supportive of their success (Linley et al., 2016). But how do faculty know students' names and pronouns? And once they know, how will they use them? Beemyn and Brauer (2015) recommended that collegiate student records systems have fields in place for faculty and staff to be able to easily access students' names and gender pronouns. At UI, we sought opportunities to facilitate faculty and staff access to trans* students' names and pronouns of reference as well as opportunities to educate the campus community about trans* identities. The outcome we ultimately pursue is eradication of systemic oppression of trans* people in higher education; the initiative described...


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