Imagine, if you will, that the information on your BruinCard was all untrue. The card, although it has your student ID number printed on it, shows a different name than yours, and maybe even a picture that does not at all represent what you look like. Although you know that the card shows a false identity, there’s nothing you can do to change it, and you have to use that card in all official university settings. Tests, swiping into the dorms and dining halls, administrative purposes – seemingly mundane tasks are transformed into reminders of that name which you cannot escape.
That was the reality for many trans and nonbinary students at UCLA through the end of the last academic year; before then, only students’ legal names were printed on their BruinCards. On July 1, 2017, a new policy came into effect allowing students to have their preferred name on their BruinCards instead of their legal name. However, we cannot discount the adverse effects that the old rules had on students, many of whom are still Bruins today.
Maria Elysse Victoria Neptune, a third year student, expressed that she hesitated to ever even use her BruinCard. She would tell test proctors that she had forgotten her card at home when asked for it. “It made me feel like I was just pretending, or that was my ‘real’ name when my preferred name is actually my real name,” said Neptune. She felt that her legal name was not a representation of herself, and so could not act as an effective form of ID. “Even the picture doesn’t look anything like me,” she said.
Emery Moberg is a first year student who very recently changed his name on his BruinCard. Before he was able to do so, he always did his best to not lose his card “so that nobody has to post a photo of it anywhere.” He also took measures to only allow people to see the picture on the card (and not the name) when he had to use it. Moberg changed his name in MyUCLA “because I didn’t want to constantly get deadnamed by all of my professors and TAs.” Being deadnamed happened often to Moberg during his high school career, as there was no option to change his name on official rosters. This often led to uncomfortable questions.
These experiences were not just limited to Neptune and Moberg. Raja Bhattar, Director of the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center, affirmed that they have heard of similar experiences of students being outed or questioned as to their identity because their cards and their images did not necessarily match their presentation.” They expressed dismay that although UCLA is an institution that prides itself on being a top LGBTQ+ and trans-friendly campus, “we did not have a system to provide basic support and security for trans folks.”
This important need for change eventually came to the attention of USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh. After being “introduced to a lot of the struggles and issues that trans students on campus face” through serving on the Student Advisory Board for the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and after reading about the preferred name issue in a Daily Bruin article, she reached out to Bhattar. Bhattar “explained to [Mokhtarzadeh] that for more than seven years, students have been advocating for this change…but there hadn’t been any solidified commitment from the university.” The pair organized a meeting with Student Affairs, and the group came to the conclusion that it was “entirely possible” to put preferred names on BruinCards, and “could make a world of difference to students on campus.” USAC worked in tandem with the LGBT Campus Resource Center to put the new policy into place, and it took effect last summer, just in time for the new school year.
The policy change has not been without issues. Some of these issues have been logistical: Moberg points out that not all student organizations and campus resources use students’ preferred names, which makes it difficult for him to know when he is able to use his preferred name and when he is not. Another anonymous student shared that although his preferred name was connected to their MyUCLA, his roommates still received this student’s legal name in initial roommate emails from the university. The most striking issue with the policy, however, is how some students have not taken it seriously: one student decided to change his preferred name to “Lightning-Kachow-McQueen” in order to test the boundaries of the new rule. Although he has since apologized for his actions, this student’s decision threatened to jeopardize the positivity of the rule. Despite this, there is no intention by USAC to reverse the policy. The President noted, “we’re not going to take a step back from the progress we’ve made because one person chose to make fun of it. The benefits of this policy change far outweigh the cost.”
Since the new policy change, many student experiences have indeed changed for the better. Neptune has felt a sense of liberation since changing her preferred name on her Bruincard. “I don’t have to think about this anymore. It’s just another way for me to just live, and I don’t have to think about being trans all the time,” said Neptune. She affirmed the importance of having “an ID that represents me.” Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, has felt similarly positive about his experience with his Bruincard, saying that he’s “never been in a situation where it was uncomfortable to hand someone my BruinCard, because it has my name on it.” He also feels more comfortable posting in class discussion forums, because his preferred name appears on those platforms as well. Raja asserts the importance of this policy, stating that “the preferred name process is really critical to… affirm for students who they are and how they live in the world.” National LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal suggests that policies like this can improve the academic performance of trans students. To this end, other academic institutions like UC Berkeley and the Los Angeles Unified School District have taken similar measures to those taken by UCLA, requiring administrative records and student ID cards to bear students’ preferred names.
Although the new preferred name policy has brought undeniably positive progress to trans students on campus, the fight for trans rights does not simply stop with a name change on a student ID card. Bhattar explains that “preferred names are just one step that UCLA has taken in a whole range of different things to make sure that students understand that we are committed to supporting students.” This seems to be something that the UCLA administration has acknowledged: the Office of the President is now working on various projects to benefit trans Bruins. An initiative is underway in conjunction with UCPD to make students’ university ID number the primary identifier in interactions with UCPD. Additionally, a new notification system is in the works to inform professors if a student in their class has changed their preferred name within the Registrar’s system. USAC is also working on having pronouns on BruinCards and addressing issues trans students experience at the Ashe Center, both ideas that Mokhtarzadeh immediately attributed to the student advocacy group TransUP. She also credits all of the recent and future changes benefitting trans students on campus not to her own office, but to “the years of students advocating and pushing and bringing the issue to the forefront of our attention.”
According to the ACLU, students have the basic right to be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns regardless of whether that student has legally changed their name or gender yet. We as a university must continue to take every measure to ensure that this right is granted to our trans students in every way possible. As put by Bhattar, UCLA must “continue to engage in inclusive learning environments so that our students are able to thrive in this environment and make sure that they feel holistically themselves.” Only then can we truly say: let there be light.
*If you wish to change your preferred name, go to MyUCLA and click “Preferred Name” under the “Settings” tab to submit the request. It will be processed within 3 business days, and you can go to the BruinCard Office to receive a new BruinCard (the cost of which is being subsidized by the LGBT Campus Resource Center). Any further changes to or removal of your preferred name requires you to visit the Registrar’s Office at 1113 Murphy Hall.
Contributing Authors: Austin Mendoza, Kai Huang, Siobhan Chapman, Stef Newell, Dana Dixon