MacEwan University allows students, staff to pick preferred names and genders

Students and staff at ​MacEwan University will now have the opportunity to change their genders or names in the university's record-keeping systems.

'Everyone just wants to be recognized, and everyone wants to be seen as who they are'

Students will now have the option to change their name or gender within university records, even if it doesn't match whats listed on their birth certificate. (MacEwan University)

Students and staff at ​MacEwan University will now have the opportunity to change their genders or names in the university's record-keeping systems.

The university said the change was made because some students prefer to use names or gender pronouns that don't match those listed on their birth certificates.

The policy will take effect immediately.

Michelle Plouffe, vice-president, general counsel and compliance officer at MacEwan, said administrators want to create an inclusive school and empower students to "define their own identity."

Until now, the university's systems have only kept legal names and genders on file, which has led to some "frustration and confusion."  

'Allow people to be who they are'

"It came about as part of some initiatives we're working on to support gender and sexual minorities," Plouffe said in a statement. "Though it will benefit people who want to use a preferred name for other reasons as well.

"Some students had raised concerns that the system made it difficult to change to their preferred name or gender marker. Their legal name would follow them throughout the system. So we're making changes that allow people to be who they are."

The previous policy left many LGBTQ students feeling anxious on campus, said Jason Garcia, MacEwan's student council vice-president of student life.

"The moment that maybe an instructor reads the wrong name, and you're outed to let's say anywhere between five, 20 or 80 classmates, it can be very overwhelming for anyone in that scenario," Garcia said.

"Having administration on board with it really goes to show how MacEwan really wanted to own up to this hurt that students were feeling from being either misgendered or misnamed."

The new policy will change how students are identified on university identification cards, class rosters, and in other online administrative systems.

Students can update their gender identity to either male, female or gender minority. Students and faculty can also change their first or last names to "something completely different from what appears on your legal identification."

However, the university said a student's legal name will still be used for any legal documentation, such as tax receipts, transcripts, university credentials.

Students wanting to update their names or genders can visit the University Registrar website for instructions.

'It keeps students in schools'

The changes are especially important to Will Byrknes, a first year international student.

Byrknes doesn't identify as male or female and prefers the pronoun they. Byrknes moved to Edmonton from Norway, and will benefit from the new freedom.

"For me, personally, as a gender-queer person, I think it's really, really exciting," Byrknes said. "To be able to look into a system and see that I, as a person, that my identity is valid, and it exists in legal systems."

Bryknes thinks all LGBTQ students will benefit from the changes.

"Everyone just wants to be recognized, and everyone wants to be seen as who they are."

Kristopher Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, applauded the change.

Wells said the U of A implemented similar policies a couple of years ago, and it's a growing trend in North America.

"It's because of the students," Wells said. "They're identifying differently, and their post-secondary institutions need to evolve to meet their needs.

"It keeps students in schools. When they're actually recognized for who they are it says, you exist, you matter, you have value here. And you're welcome at our post-secondary institution."