Please Call Me Something Else
Administrative hurdles prevent transgender students at Barnard from killing their dead names
Recently, Jude Poley (BC ’19), tried to change their name in the SSOL– Columbia’s online system for students’ billing, registration, and personal information–and was met with a variety of complications. After being accepted to Barnard, Poley went through a transition, changing their name and pronouns. Yet, their deadname continued to exist on all official documents, emails, mail, and even their Barnard ID.
Although Poley knew they wanted to be identified with their new name and pronouns on Barnard’s campus, when they asked if they could continue to have their deadname be on the letters sent home, Barnard could not comply. Poley had not yet come out to their parents and did not want their parents to see their new name. The registrar office gave Poley an ultimatum: they must choose one identity or the other. So, they were left with two choices. Either be forcibly outed to their parents via college mail or be see their deadname on every document given to them during their time at Barnard. Poley, who has been slowly adjusting to college life, went through a lot of emotional turmoil throughout this process.
Illustration by Rea Rustagi
“I was pissed and sad and disappointed, because a big part of why I was so excited to leave for college, especially a liberal college in NYC of all places, was the knowledge that I would be able to go by my chosen name instead of having to hear my deadname all the time,” said Poley when asked how they felt about the issue.
Poley’s experience is common for many transgender youths across the country. For many who identify as transgender, or anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, coming out to family members can be extremely difficult. There are complications, struggles, and fears that are associated with coming out, meaning that the person coming out must feel ready to do so– not pressured by peers and institutions. Sadly, even at Barnard, students are not given that great of a choice.
When the administration was asked to comment on Barnard’s inclusivity to trans youth, Alli Cooke, Associate Director for Media Relations, highlighted Barnard’s new admission policy.
In 2015, Barnard decided to change its admission policy to be more accepting of transgender people. Students who identified as female, regardless of their gender at birth, could now be accepted; students who identified as female and transitioned after acceptance could remain in the institution and graduate.
Even with these efforts, Barnard still remains inaccessible for people who identify as male, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming at the time of application, regardless of the gender assigned at birth. Moreover, changes to the admission policy have not solved all the issues transgender students face.
“I don’t blame the school for a lot of the issues with the system because I know a lot of it boils down to legal problems, but I do blame them for how difficult it is to even get information and how blatantly disorganized they are when it comes to their trans students. I went to the registrar and they told me there was absolutely nothing that could be done because no one even knew that there was a potential solution that could be worked toward,” said Poley.
People who identify as anything other than female continuously struggle to seamlessly fit into the student body. Unfortunately, they are forced to face the fact that some people still call a large group of Barnard students “Barnard women.” Yet, even with these struggles, students and faculty put in the effort to welcome and accept these students.
“I’ve [taught] at a lot of places, and [Barnard] has been the place where I’ve seen people be the most open about learning about these issues,” said a new professor at Barnard who declined to give a name to The Blue and White.
Even though these changes are very recent, the Barnard community has been active in trying to respect and understand people’s gender identities. Growing pains are natural when changes occur in the system and the people at Barnard are doing their best to adjust.
“Ultimately, the problem is that this administration touts its ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’ whenever possible, but when one of their ‘diverse’ student’s needs something, it takes way more work and way more unnecessary distress than it should to actually get things done,” said Poley.
Fortunately, for the Poley, their professor was able to advocate for them to the administration to help the situation get better. Although Poley is grateful for what the administration was able to do, the problem has not been fully resolved. They believe that the administration still has a long way to go on its path to inclusivity.