NYU’s Preferred Name System Helps Trans Students at School, but Could Hurt Them at Home

NYU’s Preferred Name System Helps Trans Students at School, but Could Hurt Them at Home

I’m Alex. That’s my name.

Or at least that’s what the NYU system knows as my “preferred name,” which, for a transgender student, is the next best thing to a legal name change. It’s a thoughtful accommodation that makes my life at college a lot easier.

Because of a text box on the NYU undergraduate application that allowed me to provide this preferred name, every NYU service I use on a daily basis knows me as Alex, and so does everyone I meet.

I’ve never had to answer to the name of a person who doesn’t exist anymore, because nobody knows it. Nobody I meet here even has to know that I was born under a different name. But this system, one that now helps me so much in everyday life, backfired when I was applying to NYU during my senior year of high school.

“Why does it say ‘Alex?’” my parents asked me when the mailings addressed to Alex Tey started arriving at my home. Taken aback by the question, I could only offer some unconvincing explanation about how it was a nickname I was using, on some occasions, with certain people… or something like that.

That was an early step in a coming-out process I never wanted. Though well-intentioned, the use of my preferred name on school mailings played a role in outing me to my parents. This could have been avoided by a simple modification to the undergraduate application.

NYU should allow its students to determine which name they wish to appear on documents and web portals visible to their parents. This could be accomplished by simply including a checkbox under the preferred name field allowing the applicant to indicate that this is the name to be used in such instances. The system should default to using the student’s birth name if not otherwise specified. Even though being deadnamed  — which is when someone refers to a trans person by the name they used before they transitioned — sucks, it’s an easier mistake to fix than being outed to one’s parents prematurely.

Though distressing, the ordeal was ultimately only a discomfort for me. For other trans students, however, this is could have been far more serious. Being outed to one’s parents can place a young trans person in direct danger.

A more extreme version of this issue arose this June when the Delaware Department of Education modified a proposed state regulation to require parental consent for accommodations for trans students.

The NYU preferred name system as it currently exists presents a similar dilemma for trans students: use a deadname at school, or risk being outed to parents?

I don’t want to be misgendered or deadnamed at school, and the effectiveness of the current preferred name system demonstrates NYU’s commitment to resolving issues that have affected trans students in the past. But I also wish I hadn’t been outed at home before coming here. Allowing applicants to clarify the use of their preferred name would require only a minor change, but would help vulnerable trans students stay safe at home.

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Email Alex at [email protected]