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University of Pennsylvania’s transgender name change policy expanded after College Fix inquiry

Penn claims policy was changed ‘by student request’ but provides no supporting documentation

The University of Pennsylvania claims it is changing its transgender-only “preferred name” administrative policy after an inquiry from The College Fix.

The policy has blocked students whose sex and gender identities align from changing their names in university records since the transgender preference was instituted three years ago.

“Preferred Name” policy, posted on the webpage for the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life, still reads as of Wednesday night:

In support of the University of Pennsylvania’s commitment to providing an equitable and safe experience for students whose birth name and/or legal name does not reflect their gender identity and/or gender expression, Penn accepts requests from such students to use a preferred first and/or middle name in University records.

The policy explicitly limits which students can take part in the initiative. Only students who are “transgender, gender nonconforming, gender variant, and non-cisgender” are allowed to change their preferred name.

Penn has long been hailed as one of the top LGBT-friendly campuses in the country. The Campus Pride Index, an LGBT campus-ranking organization, gives Penn five out of five stars, while the ranking service CollegeChoice recently listed Penn as the fourth-best college in the country for LGBT students.

The College Fix reached out to the vice provost’s office on June 18 to inquire why Penn denies the name change option based on gender identity, Vice Provost Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum said the original policy had been “rolled out initially by student request,” but that now, “by further student request,” the policy would be “available to all.”

In spite of repeated requests for clarification, neither McCoullum nor university spokeswoman Monica Yant Kinney provided documentation that the policy had been changed before The Fix’s inquiry.

McCoullum told The Fix that Penn’s website is “being updated for the Fall” to reflect the new policy. At the time of publication, the Vice Provost’s website still reflected the exclusionary name policy.

Penn instituted the preferred-name policy in 2014 after the Lambda Alliance, which describes itself as “the umbrella advocacy group for queer students at the University of Pennsylvania,” brought the idea to administrators.

At the time, Penn LGBT center representative Erin Cross told The Daily Pennsylvanian that she hoped the policy would eventually be extended to all students.

“I think anybody should be able to use their preferred name,” she said, noting that “faculty and staff … people who would prefer to go by their Hebrew name, those who are named after their father and use their middle name and international students who want to go by a different name” were also barred from using the service.

However, it appears that for the past three years and until The Fix inquired about the policy, Penn restricted preferred name changes solely to transgender and gender variant students.

The Lambda Alliance did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Fix.

Other colleges, such as Old Dominion University, Brown University, and Washington University in St. Louis, also have “preferred name” policies. But none of those appeared to deny the option to change one’s preferred name to cisgender students.

MORE: Sorority accepts men: ‘A transgender woman is just as much of a woman as I am’

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About the Author
Ben Decatur is a senior at the University of Michigan, studying political science and business. Ben was an intern last summer at the National Journalism Center, a program of the Young America's Foundation. He previously served as an editor for Morning Brew, a business and technology e-newsletter. Ben is passionate about foreign policy, freedom of speech, and American politics.

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