Preferred name policy marks major milestone for transgender community
Hey ya’ll. Jamie here, co-founder of Trans*missions and opinionated Rutgers graduate. Just because I graduated this past May doesn’t mean I’ve left for good. Rutgers has been home to me. As a New Brunswick native, Rutgers has always been an integral part of my day-to-day life. As a child, my mother, a 26-year Rutgers employee, used to parade her favorite little daughter around campus when summer camp let out early. She would show me off to her coworkers, brag about my soccer skills and occasionally let me sneak into the Cove arcade on Busch campus. I would play some of the games while my mom lifted heavy packages and filled mailboxes — the retro ones with a gold-tinted key. Things have changed at Rutgers since those days — lots of things. Those gold-tinted mailboxes are gone. Now they have a locker system that magically opens at the touch of a button, and then voila! There’s your Amazon package! (It’s not digital-aged magic by the way: My mom puts them there). Oh, and something else has changed at Rutgers since I was that little kid in the Cove. What I didn’t know back then was that nearly a decade later, I would go to Rutgers, just as my mom said I would, and I would become one of the leaders of the transgender movement at the University, co-founding Trans*missions, Rutgers’ first-ever transgender organization. That little Cove-dwelling girl would later transition and become a son rather than a daughter.
So yes, lots of things have changed since those days of golden tinted mailboxes and Cove arcade games. I have changed, my mother’s job has changed and one thing else has changed: Rutgers has acknowledged that its transgender students exist. They always have, but in the early 2000s, that wasn’t something administration (or anyone, really) talked about. But this year, Rutgers has acknowledged its transgender population in a really big way. Rutgers has implemented a preferred name policy this semester, something that Trans*missions, along with The Center for Social Justice and Rutgers University Student Assembly, have been pushing for.
Now, to the nontransgender Rutgers population (FYI, if you’re not transgender, you’re called cisgender) you might be asking, “Why is this big? Why would Rutgers, or anyone for that matter, put any effort into making this happen?” I’ll tell you why: Because while you are busy purchasing Amazon books online the day or week before classes, transgender students are hanging by a thread for their safety and privacy. They are scrambling to make sure their first day of classes is safe for them to enter. For a community rocked by transphobic violence with the murder of a transgender Rutgers student last fall, Rutgers had to act. Transgender students, without the preferred name policy, had to personally find their professors’ email addresses, email them before classes and out themselves to them to ensure their appropriate name was being used, given the fact that the class roster only uses legal names. It costs approximately $400 to get your name legally changed in New Jersey, and as you all may know, that type of money is not readily available for most college students. So no, transgender students could not just get their name changed to circumvent the Rutgers legal name database. Not only that, but sometimes transgender students are harassed and questioned by Rutgers employees when trying to enter the gymnasium or the dining halls because their names do not match their current appearance. It was a state of emergency for transgender students and this small policy change has conveyed the message that Rutgers sees us. Rutgers knows we are here and we are not, and refuse to be, invisible. It’s a small recognition that speaks volumes to a community that suffers some of the most staggering statistics imaginable.
Jamie DiNicola is a Rutgers University class of 2014 graduate. He co-founded and served as the president of Rutgers’ first ever transgender organization, Trans*missions.