Being a trans* student at the VUB (2/3): what is the university doing?

What is the VUB doing to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for its trans* students? De Moeial spoke with the Student Affairs office, the Equality Team and the involved ICT services about why a name change is so difficult. In this discussion we took the pulse of current possibilities as well as plans for a better future policy.

This research file also contains two other articles: Two students shared their experience of requesting a name change at the VUB and de Moeial spoke to Joz Motmans about the trans* policy at the UGent. 

Text: Justine Demeulenaere

Image: Andreas Lorrain

“There is still a lot of work to do. We are aware of that”, says Lisa Van der Schueren, Student Affairs policy officer and member of the Equality Team. “We submitted a BVO (a policy-preparing study, ed.) for a cohesive transgender policy at the VUB. At the end of March, we know whether it will be approved.”

“Administrative bureaucracy is a big problem”

Lisa Van der Schueren (Student Affairs & Equality Team)

The approval of a BVO means that the university can start developing  plans for a specific policy. Based on those preparations, the university can subsequently make decisions and start up initiatives. The Vice-rectorate Education and Student Affairsand the Equality Team already submitted a BVO for a transgender policy last year, but it was rejected in favour of BVOs that were aimed at the impact of the covid crisis on education and wellbeing. 

The BVO for a transgender policy lists the specific issues at the VUB. “Administration is a big problem”, says Van der Schueren. “We use the CALI program for student administration, in which all the student data is linked to their name. Because of that, names are difficult to change – we want to be able to activate the ‘preferred name’ field. This would mean that students are able to apply for a different name more easily, no matter what the name on their ID is.”

Why is it not possible to use a preferred name right now?

“At the moment there isn’t a procedure for it yet”, says Liesbet Van Tendeloo, head of CALI at the Vice-rectorate Education and Student Affairs. “The option for a preferred name exists, but we don’t know in which cases we can use the preferred name, and in which cases we are required to use the legal name”, adds Tijn Eerdekens, product manager of CALI and member of the ICT department.

“At the moment students have to figure out everything themselves. We think that it is important to provide clear communication from the VUB on what is or isn’t possible right now, and what will be adjusted in the future.”

Lisa Van der Schueren (Student Affairs & Equality Team)

A clear distinction between the use of the preferred name and the legal name is necessary, otherwise problems may arise during graduation or when students want to apply  for a train or bus pass. “Only when that has been decided, we can start working on translating it into the system.” In case of a legal name change, the system-change  is easy. “Maybe not in  a day’s time, but we do look at it with the necessary urgency”, says van Tendeloo.

The estimated end date for the reformation of the student administration system is the end of 2022. This was made clear in an exchange between rector Caroline Pauwels and the IGVM (Institute for the equality between women and men, ed.).

What is possible at the moment?

“These small things, but students can easily change their picture or apply for an email alias”, says Lisa Van der Schueren. “That can be a temporary solution.” Offering specific information is also on the agenda: “At the moment students have to figure out everything themselves. We think that it is important to provide clear communication from the VUB on what is or isn’t possible right now, and what will be adjusted in the future.” Offering information doesn’t have to wait until the BVO results are in. “We want to settle this before the start of the 2021-2022 academic year ”, says Van der Schueren.

What else does the BVO for a transgender policy included?

The preparational study proposes to make all communication gender inclusive (adapting gendered forms of address, e.g. “sir/madam”). “At the moment we already do this when we need to change a certain email template. The aim is to make these changes systematic”, says Van der Scheuren. There is also a need for transgender awareness and sensitivity among all members of the VUB community. “This will consist of a combination of training and information for the educational personnel”, says Van der Schueren. “We also want more attention for the trans* theme in the curricula.” Finally, the Equality Team wants to provide gender inclusive infrastructure and signalisation.

Edit (18/03/21): The BVO for a transgender policy at the VUB has been approved.

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