Call her Sunny, and she smiles. Big.
She’s a freshman from Hong Kong, and her legal name is Jia Meng Li, which appears on her student identification card, class rosters, grade reports and more. Starting March 27, under UC Davis’ new preferred name service, she can opt to have the university put “Sunny” on those documents instead.
“This is awesome,” said Li, a life sciences major. “I’m so excited. It’s so cool. All my friends call me Sunny.”
UC Davis is among a leading group of American universities to enact preferred name policies, believed to be especially attractive to students who want their names to reflect their gender identities, and to international students who may choose English names for convenience and assimilation.
The UC Davis Police Department is a national leader, too, with a closely related policy that took effect last fall. The policy affirms that preferred first names may be used on campus, so long as they are not being used for the purposes of misrepresentation; and instructs officers to interact with people using their preferred names and with respect for gender self-identity and expression.
Both policies are examples of how UC Davis values diversity and is committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive community.
“I saw a willingness and sensitivity on this campus to be open and inclusive that truly impressed me,” said Amy Kautzman, associate director of academic services for the University Library, who championed the two-year preferred name initiative involving almost 20 departments.
“UC Davis is special in how much the administrative staff care about improving our students’ experience,” she said.
Choosing and using
Students can set their preferred names via the online directory; the chosen names will then propagate automatically into other campus systems for ID cards, class rosters, grade reports and library interactions.
Ali Marie Cordone, an assistant registrar who served on the preferred name work group, said legal first names will continue to be used for student accounts, financial aid, enrollment verification, transcripts and diplomas. She said the offices that handle these services interact with federal and state agencies that verify student identity using legal names and other information.
After inserting their preferred names in the online directory, Li and other continuing students can exchange their AggieCards for new ones (showing preferred names) at no cost during the spring quarter at the AggieCard Office in the Memorial Union. New students have the option of selecting preferred names when indicating their intent to register.
Students are cautioned against changing their email addresses and login identifications. The processing time for these changes can take up to five days, during which time students would not be able to access some services. Further, students would be unable to access SmartSite, including class pages associated with old login IDs.
What’s in a name?
Li’s parents nicknamed her Sunny for her mother’s last name Yang, which means sun. “Everybody says your name is just you,” Li said. “It will be the first time I can say Sunny as my real name and put it into a document.”
Fuyang Huang, is a freshman from Wu Xi, China, but here he goes by Jack, the name he received from his English teacher in primary school. The physics major said people are more comfortable calling him “Jack,” instead of struggling to pronounce his Chinese name.
Kautzman said the use of a preferred name matters deeply to transgender students in their day-to-day interactions. “Too often our students are inadvertently outed by institutions with our unbending rules when we insist on using given names instead of the preferred names.”
The project work
An inquiry at the circulation desk of Shields Library two years ago prompted Kautzman to explore how the library and then the university could accommodate the use of preferred names.
After a core work team and a larger stakeholders group began discussions and documented the process, Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor for Campus Community Relations, took the project to the Campus Council on Community and Diversity and got its support.
Much of the workflow analysis and coding work fell to staff in the Student Affairs Office of Technology, who redesigned the identification cards and, in Kautzman’s words, “followed the student data down all of the rabbit holes.”
UC Davis employees may continue to use a first name of their choice for the online directory (subject to their home department’s approval) and SmartSite, but employees’ preferred names will not affect other university records.