Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Blackboard displays students’ preferred names

By AASHNA SUNDESHA | September 12, 2019

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Starting this semester, Blackboard and the Student Information System (SIS) will pull preferred name information directly from myJH. The initiative builds on updates made this past spring, which allowed Hopkins students, staff and faculty to designate a preferred name on myJH profiles. 

This is one of the changes that a special committee implemented to improve the University’s online systems. The committee had support from IT@JHU, the Office of Institutional Equity, Human Resources and LGBTQ Life. 

To promote a more inclusive and safe environment, the people who spearheaded this change recognized the insufficiency of the “nickname” option that was previously offered and added the “preferred name” option as part of the myProfile section in the myJHU portal. 

Junior James Dweck, who is transgender, described his excitement upon logging into Blackboard and discovering that his name was appropriately reflected. 

“I went through a legal name change last October, so almost a year ago now. And then I went through the process of changing it in the school records and things like that and everything got updated except Blackboard,“ Dweck said. “Because this new feature’s kicked in, actually Blackboard has now been updated. It isn’t saying my dead name on there, which is wonderful and it puts a lot less work on the students who need to do that.”

Demere Woolway, director of LGBTQ Life, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that she recognizes that this is not a dramatic change but rather is the culmination of several years of smaller changes.

“All students, staff, and faculty should be able to go by the name that makes sense for them. We do this informally all the time – for example, calling someone Bill whose legal name is William,” Woolway wrote. “The improvements to the computer systems allow this information to be easier for people to access and show respect for others.”

Woolway further expanded on the members of the community that this change particularly serves, including transgender or non-binary people who go by a different name than their legal name, people who go by their nickname or middle name and some students who choose to go by Americanized names.  

Freshman Sebastian Alatorre wrote in an email to The News-Letter that this change promotes a more inclusive and accepting environment on campus. 

“Those people whose preferred name is different from their legal name may have felt alienated from the university, but this change gives a unique sense of comfort and community to those same people,“ Alatorre wrote. “The university as a whole is now being taught to respect and honor those preferred names so we are pushing the agenda in the right direction in terms of tolerance and a mutual respect.”

Freshman Snigdha Panda wrote in an email to The News-Letter that she believes that the University strives for tolerance, and that this change represents the emphasis of the University on inclusivity. 

“People prefer different names for a variety of reasons, and it is up to us to request this individual reasoning and recognize someone’s validity in their decisions,” Panda wrote. “Names are integral to an identity despite their simplicity. Starting with addressing issues in terms of names is a great place for the university to start because it directly deals with the individual.”

Alatorre wrote that this change was necessary to ensure comfort within the Hopkins community. 

“In regards to the culture of tolerance, the university as a whole is now being taught to respect and honor those preferred names so I feel we are pushing the agenda in the right direction in terms of tolerance and a mutual respect, this is only the beginning,” he wrote. 

While efforts are being made towards making sure that more systems ask for preferred names on campus, students currently have to manually put in their preferred name for many systems. These include J-Card, Student Counseling, Homewood Student Health and Wellness Center, Athletic Team Rosters and Handshake. 

Woolway wrote to The News-Letter about further changes she hopes to see at the University.

“I am hopeful that we can work on making it possible to provide a space for pronouns in the student information system,” Woolway wrote. 

Freshman Breanna Soldatelli wrote in an e-mail to The News-Letter about other steps the University could take in order to increase the culture of tolerance on campus. She stressed that improving physical accessibility would play a huge role in creating a more inclusive environment. 

“The university should include elevators or ramps in the dorms and more areas, because some people with crutches and wheelchairs are having trouble getting upstairs, and it makes visiting friends a lot harder,” she wrote.

Dweck underscored the significance of this change to the online systems.

“When I was going about the process of, how do I change my name? How do I put that in and get it done? I had no idea what to do or where to look,“ Dweck said. “To be able to change it in all the systems where you’re seeing it all the time so easily is incredible.”

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