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Sydney Student portal to allow students to use preferred name

Eden Faithfull reports

Sydney University students will soon be able to use their preferred names in the University’s online administration portal, Sydney Student.

Until now, students have been unable to determine their first name in the University’s information systems, something that has proven a particular obstacle for transgender and international students.

Dr Rebecca Johinke, Arts Faculty Sub Dean of student affairs, has worked with members of the university administration to employ the change in the Sydney Student portal.

“With so many students now transitioning, it is absolutely their right to be called the name that they want to be called,” she said. “It’s a basic human right now.”

As far back as 2014, students have been voicing grievances to the Dean that the University was failing to represent them.

“We didn’t face any opposition in administering this change to the system, but we were slowed down, as always, by our not very good computer system, which has started gradually catching up,” said Dr Johinke.

In addition to transgender students, the change was introduced for international students who prefer to go by anglicised names, and those who are unwilling to submit their full legal name online.

A University spokesperson said preferred names had also been made a feature of Blackboard in order to align with the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan.

“The University of Sydney recognises many of our students prefer to use first names that might not be their legal first names. The University of Sydney will continue to explore possibilities where students’ preferred names can be utilised.”

Students who have legally changed their name are still faced with their old, ‘dead’ name through their university correspondence and email address, which is supplied to Microsoft Office upon enrolment and is, as of yet, not subject to change.

“We are at a critical point. Sydney University has proven that in regards to using preferred names, it cannot communicate with students that it claims it is trying to help,” said student Andrea Zephyr, who has been involved in the Rainbow Campus campaign.

Zephyr said there were barriers for transgender students wanting to change their ‘dead’ names as they appeared on official University enrolments.

“Navigating the bureaucracy is so difficult, and would mean that someone like myself would need considerable time to raise the necessary funds to change their name,” she said.

Georgia Mantle, SRC General Secretary and member of the University’s Equity, Diversity and Culture Working Group, said there still remained problems with the way Sydney Student recorded gender pronouns.

“Considering we have the ability to submit titles such ‘Honourable Justice’ and ‘Reverend Canon’, but not ‘them/they’ pronouns is ridiculous,” she said.

“Once we are able to modify gender on the student portal, we will be able to take the next step and sort out personal pronouns.”

Liv Oliver-Hopkins, a PhD student and member of the Queer Action Collective (QuAC), legally changed her name for personal reasons, but has come up against resistance from the University.

“I explained the situation to USyd, but they said unless I could provide my marriage certificate or a change of name certificate there was nothing they could do,” said Oliver-Hopkins. “It’s very frustrating.”

Changes to the Sydney Student portal, including new gender and pronoun selections, will be considered by the next meeting of Academic Board meeting on August 17.