Like many transgender Loyola students, first-year Ian Christoferson no longer uses his female birth name.
But Loyola does, and it’s still displayed on his official paperwork and student ID, which doubles as his meal card. It’s a name Christoferson’s friends don’t even know.
He says being called that name feels like the “opposite of validation.”
“[My birth name is] a very personal, private part of me and the idea that the people swiping me in at the dining hall see that every day … there’s such a disconnect, it just doesn’t feel right,” Christoferson, 18, said.
Christoferson isn’t alone. Some other transgender Loyola students described being called their birth name as “painful,” “humiliating” and “uncomfortable.”
But they’re hopeful the school might soon alter its policy on name changes, which currently requires legal documentation. School officials confirmed they’re studying whether and how to do that.
Transgender is defined by dictionary.com as “noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.”
For many transgender people, changing a name is a step in owning their identity.
The student group Gender Understanding Exploration Support Society (GUESS), through which students discuss gender issues and experiences, has been working with Dean of Students Will Rodriguez to improve the university’s name change process.
Some transgender students referred to their birth name as their “dead name.”
“It’s your name that’s dead to you. It’s not who you are, it’s not something that you want to be,” Len King, a Loyola senior who was given a female name at birth, said.
At Loyola, a student’s legal name is used in their email addresses, class lists and Loyola’s assignment system, Sakai. Currently, Loyola will only change a student’s name if it’s been legally changed through the courts.
While this might seem like an easy fix, many transgender students at Loyola haven’t gone through the legal process because it’s expensive and time consuming. Besides, as King put it, choosing a new name can be a trial-and-error process before finding the one that feels right.
In a statement sent to The Phoenix, Rodriguez said he formed a task force last year focused on transgender issues at Loyola. He said he’s discussed the name change policy with several officials at the university over the course of the past two semesters and is now formally considering changing the policy.
He said Loyola’s technology must be analyzed extensively before a change can be made.
“We in Student Development will continue to work closely with Registration and Records as well as Information Technology Services to keep this complex project moving forward and to report on progress in regular intervals,” the statement said.
MC Sullivan, a sophomore communication studies major, said he went from being one of the only LGBTQ students at his Indiana high school to finding a community on campus and in Chicago.
“Just meeting people who were finally like me is the biggest part about why I just feel so much better in Chicago, even though the people I’ve met and become friends with aren’t from Chicago, it’s like we all kind of came here and just feel so right here,” said Sullivan, who came out as transgender male his sophomore year.
Several students in GUESS said while Loyola students have been accepting and welcoming, they’ve had problems with professors and administrators because Loyola’s system holds their birth name instead of their chosen name. They gave examples of being “misgendered” — referred to as male when they identify as female, or vice versa — or called their birth name in class or an email.
Sullivan said the frequency of these encounters is “exhausting” because he is constantly explaining himself.
“I and other trans people have to come out every single day,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he used permanent marker to scratch out his birth name on his student ID. When he explained why he wants his initials on his ID instead of his given name, he said he was told by a university employee to “just legally change it.”
For some students who live on campus, the problems don’t stop with the school administration.
Christoferson, a secondary education and English double major, said he lives on an all-women floor in Mertz Residence Hall though he was given the option to use the men’s bathroom on a different floor.
Linas Mitchell, a third-year Loyola graduate student who was born female but identifies as transgender, said many of these issues could be remedied if the university made it easier for students to change their names.
Before hearing from Rodriguez, Mitchell said students in GUESS discussed their concerns with Loyola’s office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, who didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment at the time of publication.
As these students work to change the policy, they’re aware Loyola could become one of the first Jesuit universities in the country with a simpler process. Like Loyola, Jesuit schools such as Fordham University and Xavier University require legal documentation in order to change a student’s name, according to the schools’ websites.
While Loyola’s Catholic identity could be seen as a roadblock to changes involving the LGBTQ community, several students said Loyola could be a trailblazer for like-minded schools. King, a 24-year-old English major, said Loyola’s commitment to social justice is a reason to support the name change policy and other initiatives.
“It would be really groundbreaking and it would be something that I hope other schools learn from,” King said.
Mitchell, who’s been communicating with Rodriguez, compiled personal stories of how the current system affects transgender students and shared them with Rodriguez. Mitchell said the administration has been receptive to the students’ requests, but they haven’t heard much about the progress.
“What I’ve heard is pretty positive, so I guess I’m just at the point where I’m waiting to hear,” Mitchell, 26, said. “If something doesn’t start happening soon, I might start questioning what’s going on.”
If the university doesn’t respond in a way the students are satisfied with, Sullivan, 20, said GUESS has discussed involving other student groups, including Loyola’s student government, and starting a petition for students to sign. He said making more students aware would be a way to show the administration the change’s potential positive impacts.
“What we’re kind of planning to do with this petitioning … is convincing the administration ‘You could be the spearheads of this, you could lead the Jesuit institutions, you could set a good example,’” Sullivan said.
While it’s unclear if the policy will officially change or not, students in GUESS are already thinking forward to what comes next. Some mentioned the possibility of pushing for gender-neutral housing options for underclassmen and more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.