A name change is a necessary step for a lot of trans* people. At the university, this requires some administrative changes as well. Alex and Sacha both went through a name change process at the VUB, an experience that was not exactly pleasant.
This file contains two other articles. De Moeial sheds some light on the university’s (future) plans regarding a transgender policy and spoke with Joz Motmans about the approach at the University of Ghent (UGent).
Text: Evelien Feys
Image: Andreas Lorrain
When Sacha wanted to have his name changed by the VUB administration, he received a negative response: “My name hadn’t been changed officially, and the VUB told me that they weren’t able to change my name in the system because of that. Even though they are required to do so.” He asked if they could at least change his name on the presence lists, but this wasn’t possible either. Sacha was advised to contact the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM). The Institute then asked the VUB when the administrative system would be reformed (the estimated completion date is the end of 2022, ed.).
Alex had already legally changed his name when he contacted the VUB administration, but he experienced some trouble as well: “I emailed the administration and tried to get my name changed, but they were pretty slow with that. I contacted one of my professors to accelerate the process.” This professor then emailed some administrators for Alex. “When there was a sense of urgency, things did move faster.”
Looking for help means outing yourself (more than once)
Alex is thankful for the professor’s support, but asking for help also means outing yourself. For Sacha, the reform comes too late as well: “I really didn’t want people to know my deadname, which would be inevitable because of the online classes, so I legally changed my name. Because of that, I had to come out to my family, even if it wouldn’t have been safe for me to do so.”
“I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for students who aren’t out to their family and who want to go by a different name at school.”
It is possible to get an email alias, but Sacha only learnt about that when a professor told him. The administration did not inform him about alternatives. During one of his classes there was some confusion about his name, because Sacha was logged in with a different email address than his VUB address, since the latter contained his deadname. “I ended up not applying for an alias. I would have to tell my story again, and my name change process was already on its way. However, it could be an option for people who want to change their name this year but can’t.”
Covid and online chaos
Having to out yourself is inevitable without an administrative name change. Before their name change, Alex and Sacha used to email all their teachers before classes started, so they could address them with the correct name and pronouns. Email addresses contain official names as well, so that caused some trouble: “Teachers did reply with the name I had signed my own email with, but administration usually answered with my official name”, Alex says.
“I think that they don’t really care. I don’t know if I want to put any more energy into it. It was already so much trouble.”
Even after his official name change, Sacha encountered difficulties with the administration and emails: “At first, the administration only changed my name, so my email address still had my deadname in it. I had to send four emails about having my email address changed before I received an answer.”
Because of the Covid crisis and all the online classes, official names became more important. Teams accounts, for example, are linked to email addresses. “I think that the administration has to provide better support”, Alex says. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for students who aren’t out to their family and who want to go by a different name at school.”
A tiring quest
Knowing where you need to be for a name change is not clear. When having his bus pass reimbursed at the faculty administration, Alex asked where you could change your name. They referred him to the student administration. “It was not easy to find out who exactly I should be contacting. When the time came, I just included multiple people in the email”, Alex says.
Neither of them has passed on any complaints to the university. “I didn’t have a lot of energy for intensive self-advocacy”, Alex says. “I had other things to do and I was already struggling enough with university.” Even though he is thinking about sending in a complaint in the future, Sacha currently can’t pluck up the courage either: “I think that they don’t really care. I don’t know if I want to put any more energy into it. It was already so much trouble.”
Respect and accessibility
What can the VUB do in order to better support trans* students? For Sacha, the name change, or at least providing an alias, is an absolute priority. Even more so because of Covid and online classes: “It’s really hard. “Before my name change, I had to hear my deadname all the time – even at school, where I normally wouldn’t”, he says. “I think that the administration needs to handle the needs of trans* students more respectfully.” For Alex, the name change is the most important thing as well: “It has to be more accessible, by having a web page, for example, or provide literally any information.”
“I’m not really open to having my existence or my right to use the restroom publicly debated.”
Considering the general trans* inclusivity of the university, Alex is worried about the recent admission of Jong N-VA at the VUB, because a member expressed transphobic sentiments online. He is concerned about the presence of Jong N-VA on campus, and the public debates they might organise: “I’m not really open to having my existence or my right to use the restroom publicly debated. It’s waiting to see what they will do, but I think it creates a more uncomfortable and unsafe environment for trans* students.” The admission process caused suspicion as well: “The fact that the university supported the decision, but the student council did not – it makes you feel less supported by the university as a trans* student.”