By Cody Drabble
UC Davis joined a small group of higher-education institutions that allow students to pick a different first name than the ones they entered school with.
It’s all part of an effort to help transgender students express themselves and international students fit in. As part of the still-new preferred-name service program, the university lets students designate what they want to be called instead of their legal first names on official school documents and ID cards.
The university began letting students set their preferred first names through an online directory on March 27. The genesis for the service began two years ago, said Amy Kautzman, associate university librarian and director of access services at UC Davis. That’s when students with the LGBT resource center approached her with a mundane dilemma: trans students couldn’t find a gender-neutral bathroom in the library.
“We started working on [switching the bathroom signs] immediately, because it was fairly easy for us to wrap our arms around it,” Kautzman told SN&R. With the help of students, Kautzman reclassified all the bathrooms as gender-neutral in the Carlson Health Sciences Library, the Physical Sciences & Engineering Library, and one in the Peter J. Shields Library.
Out of that, a trickier problem arose. Trans students were frustrated that school ID cards with their legal names made it difficult to express their preferred gender identity. The first attempt at addressing the students’ issue—setting preferred names only in the library computer system—failed because the university database overrode any changes.
Kautzman coordinated a major overhaul of the UC Davis student database. To her delight, she said every department on campus supported the change, including administrators, housing, registrar’s office and the UC Davis Police Department.
Trans students using the service have done so quietly, except for Alek Ortega, who was featured on a local TV news story. “We’ll probably never know the people whose lives we’ve changed,” Kautzman said.
The service has also been tapped by international students who want to adopt more English-sounding names. UC Davis hosts north of 1,800 international students from more than 100 countries.
To date, 11 UC Davis students have exercised the option selecting their preferred first name.