The class of 2019 will be the first incoming class to have the option of using a preferred name on their U Card, the U of M’s primary identification card (as will faculty and staff). The change comes with the understanding that a person’s gender identity need not be tied to their legal birth name. The shift was made after a combination of the work of the U’s Transgender Commission, the GLBTA program office, the Ucard office and the Office of Information Technology.
While a technological upgrade made the option easier to implement, the Transgender Commission was a driving force. The Commission is composed of faculty, staff, and students whose goal is to make the University a more welcoming place.
Transgender Commission co-chair Jen Bentrim says the simple ability to use a preferred name on an ID card is part of a wider push at the University toward the principle of universal design—designing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people as possible.
Bentrim offers something as simple as the place of door handles as example. They’re made at a level where anyone (people of different heights, wheelchair-based, etc.) can reach them and open them.
“It asks ‘who might use this,’ says Bentrim. “The principle idea is to be as inclusive as possible.”
With the U Card, says Bentrim, the principle is the same.
For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name can be a source of anxiety, and knowing a person's gender status is personal information. It’s up to each individual whether they want to share it.
But if a person is exploring or transitioning genders, the former U Card legal name requirement would reveal that at every transaction.
“If you go by a different name then your legal name, if your legal name is associated with a gender that you don’t identify with, you’re automatically having to out yourself every time you buy food, or go to the bookstore, or anywhere you have to give your ID on campus,” says Bentrim.
At it’s simplest, it’s really about being inclusive of all people in the U of M’s diverse community.
“It’s just one step toward making the U a more friendly, welcoming place,” says Bentrim.
Other projects the Transgender Commission is working on include increasing the number of gender-neutral restrooms on campus and transgender healthcare.