EDITORIAL: Students have a right to know naming protocol

Sac State shouldn’t risk letting a student be incorrectly named at commencement


Nicole Fowler - The State Hornet

Students who wish to have their chosen name read by the normal, professional reader at the May graduation ceremonies have to inform Cely Smart, the president’s chief communications officer, of their chosen name by April 25 via email. That the school did not want this widely publicized has concerned some LGBTQ members of the campus community.

Graduating students have a lot on their plates — passing their final round of classes, managing their allotted tickets between family and friends, planning graduation photos and a celebratory dinner, and buying all the appropriate robes, cords and stoles, to name a few.

But one thing is being added to the list this year in particular: making sure the name called and displayed on-screen when receiving your mock diploma isn’t one that you don’t use anymore.

For graduating students at Sacramento State who are transgender, this is a real possibility.

This is because Sac State is using a third-party service called Marching Order for the reading and projection of graduates’ names at the ceremonies. Marching Order will be populated with the student’s legal name from the Registrar’s Office.

The school has offered several workarounds for trans students. Students who wish to request their name be changed in the system must send an email to President Robert Nelsen’s chief communications officer, Cely Smart, from their official school email address including their full legal name, full chosen name and student ID before an April 25 deadline.

Students who miss this deadline could have their chosen names written on a card the day of the ceremony and read, but not by the same voice as the default names read —  an omission which runs the significant risk of outing trans students.

RELATED: Trans graduates need to submit name change request to administration for ceremonies

But what is most concerning is that in an email to administrators, Smart requested that they “not publicly broadcast” the procedure for changing the names within Marching Order.

“Changing 3,000 names because an ‘Elizabeth’ goes by the nickname of ‘Liz’ is not really the intended audience,” Smart wrote.

Perhaps it would help to remind Smart — and whoever else might agree with her — that the 3,000 names being called at graduation all paid for that ceremony, as well as for multiple years of tuition at Sac State.

Therefore, the school should bend over backward to make sure they are called by the correct name on what might be the most important day of their educational lives.

If that means more work for the Commencement Office, or the need for a more flexible platform than Marching Order, so be it. Accommodate the people who make Sac State what it is — the students.

Isn’t that a better option than potentially hurting an already marginalized population?

We would be remiss to not emphasize the importance of using a transgender student’s correct name. Trans visibility and acceptance is on the rise among college-aged Americans, but for the millions of U.S. citizens who are trans, the path to college and adulthood is pathed with emotional and mental turmoil.

Transgender people are more likely to be bullied as children, as well as sexually harassed and assaulted. They are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental illnesses as children too, often simply because of the fact that they are not yet capable of expressing the feelings they are having through the already difficult stages of adolescence and puberty.

Having a chosen name is one factor that is proven to positively affect the mental health of transgender people. A recent study showed that as use of one’s chosen name increases, rates of depression and suicidal thoughts decrease.

For the unfamiliar, “dead-naming” is the use of the name a trans person used prior to their transition. Using someone’s dead-name is commonly seen as an attempt to invalidate a person’s gender identity and can cause significant distress to the person being dead-named.

There has to be a better way than this. The best solution is for the University to publicly broadcast to all graduates how they can be called by their true name at the ceremony, with no distinction between them and their fellow graduates who are cisgender.

With the knowledge of what transgender students go through as children and young adults, and how important a day like graduation can be, it is worth every effort to make sure that graduating trans students get called by their true name.