Transforming Identity, Indiana Daily Student, Fall 2013

Check out the follow-up story I wrote here.


Junior Ethan Jackson was called out in the middle of his Kelley School of Business class and accused of cheating on a test last year.

He was registered in the course under his preferred name — Ethan — but because of University policy, his student identification card still had his legal name, the name he no longer responds to, printed on it.

Jackson, who declined to provide his legal first name, works as a Resident Assistant, is a business major and is also part of IU’s transgender student population living on campus.

“The name on my ID card didn’t match the name on my professor’s roster, so there was no documentation proving that I was Ethan, the person supposed to be taking the exam,” he said. “When I walk into a classroom, I never know if the name my professor
has on the roster will be my legal or preferred name.”

Although IU policy allows students to list a preferred name alongside their primary or legal name in official academic records, some online databases such as OnCourse rosters automatically use students’ primary names, Senior Associate Registrar Lisa Scully said.

A transgender student advocacy committee recently drafted a policy proposal calling for a centralized process to accommodate anyone using University information systems that choose to identify themselves under a preferred name.

Currently, students can register a preferred name with the bursar office, but other data management entities such as the Health Center and Parking Operations often pull information that uses a student’s legal name.

Assistant Director of Residential Life and Diversity Education Barry Magee, along with graduate student Nicholas Clarkson, presented the first draft of the proposal to the Bloomington Faculty Council on Monday.

The proposal focuses on the idea that information technology systems should prioritize student ID number and preferred name and hide an individual’s legal name in as many instances as possible.

“In certain areas the University doesn’t have policies addressing transgender and genderqueer issues and how to effectively accommodate students that don’t fit within the gender binary,” Magee said.

When applying for acceptance into IU, individuals are required to indicate their gender based on two options: male or female.

“We are all raised in a world dictated by our gender,” Magee said. “Right from the get-go all the people around you say, ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ From there we choose games, clothes and activities based on fitting into one of those two boxes.”

Only when students begin to apply for housing do they encounter an additional gender option of transgender.

More than 12,000 students fill out the housing application each year, and an average of 20 students self-identify as “transgender,” according to records at the Office of Residential Programs and Services. The number of transgender students has increased during the past decade, said Sara Ivey Lucas, assistant director for housing assignments.

“RPS continues to be a leader in pushing campus to think about breaking the gender binary,” Lucas said.

RPS now offers gender neutral bathrooms or individual “pods” with a toilet, shower and sink in every residence center on campus except for Eigenmann, Jackson’s residence hall for the past two years.

Magee said not all trans-identifying students share the same opinions on matters such as housing.

“We have mixed signals in our systems throughout the University,” Magee said.
University policy states that it will not discriminate against a student’s arbitrary characteristics, such as gender and gender identity.

In August, the nationally-recognized nonprofit organization Campus Pride released its annual list of American universities deemed as having the safest, most inclusive environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students.

This year, IU didn’t make the cut.

Institutions are ranked using the Campus Pride Index, which allows colleges to self-assess their resources through a set of questions based on eight different LGBT-friendly factors, including policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, and housing.

This year, IU scored five stars overall but lacked an “accessible, simple process for students to change their name and gender identity on university records and documents, LGBT housing options and themes, and insurance coverage for students transitioning from male to female and female to male to cover hormone replacement therapy,” according to the organization’s website.

“The first year the list came out, we were in the top five schools,” Magee said. “If one year someone forgets to fill out part of the application, then our rating is affected by that.”

But students like Jackson attribute IU’s slip in the rankings to a specific cause: IU’s discrimination of transgender people.

“It makes me happy that IU fell off the top 25 for LGBT-friendly schools because that’s an acknowledgement to IU’s lack of policy in place right now for transgender students,” Jackson said.

He said his leadership position as an RA allows him to keep a conversation going that challenges gender stereotypes.

“Most of the discrimination I face isn’t from the student body, it’s from the institution,” he said. “Curiosity leads to some rude questions, but I’m all about educating people from my experiences.”

This is the second year he and his coworkers fought the policy of the University Information Technology Systems that demands RAs use their legal name when filing incident reports.

As a part of his job, Jackson said he was not able to  identify himself with his preferred name — Ethan — on any official paperwork.

“Last year we had a giant battle with UITS to get my preferred name used,” Jackson said. “When they redesigned the entire program this year, I faced the same exact issue — no one thought to include the preferred name clause again.”

Follow reporter Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.