Seniors graduating from UNC are now able to specify the name that appears on their diplomas.
This decision was made as a way to allow students who may not go by their legal names to display the name they identify with on their diplomas. Assistant Provost and University Registrar Lauren DiGrazia said the goal of this decision is to increase student pride in their accomplishments.
“We hope this change in practice will enhance the pride students feel when they display their diploma printed with the name that best reflects their identity,” DiGrazia said in a message to seniors on April 12.
This decision was largely pushed for by Terri Phoenix, the director of the LGBTQ Center. Phoenix said the ability for students to specify the name that will appear on their diplomas is an important way that the University is supporting transgender and nonbinary students.
“The most important message that it sends is that it is student-centric, that they recognize diplomas are something students can display proudly,” Phoenix said. “They have worked hard to get those diplomas, for people with multiple marginalized identities in particular, it is not an easy journey.”
University documents and emails sometimes show student and staff legal names, while other times, they show their affirmed name. Max Carter, a junior member of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance at UNC and employee at the LGBTQ Center, said they don’t know when their affirmed name or legal name will appear.
“It’s really hit or miss,” Carter said. “A lot of the time you don’t know what name is going to show up in different places. There are so many different names I get from the UNC email list. Even on more official stuff, it's still like a grab bag of what name will show up, which is really frustrating.”
Phoenix said over the years at the LGBTQ Center, T has found that the uncertainty regarding what name will appear on documents and emails can be harmful to students.
“I think it’s very damaging and it contributes to a sense of alienation and not belonging and not being respected or seen,” Phoenix said. “In the worst case scenario, it can also unintentionally out someone, which can be very physically dangerous, not to mention academically dangerous because of the prejudice and discrimination that exists.”
With these issues in mind, Phoenix began working for students to be able to choose the name on their diplomas around five years ago. Phoenix said the process was largely about educating the University and working with IT on the logistics of implementing this change.
One part of making this a reality was determining that diplomas are not legal documents, but rather ceremonial documents.
“Under North Carolina law, it’s not considered a legal document, it is a ceremonial document, and because it’s a ceremonial document, it doesn’t have to have the legal name on it,” Phoenix said. “It took a long time to get enough evidence and enough people to understand that there’s a difference with ceremonial documents.”
In the past, in order for students to specify the name on their diploma, students would have to change their legal name to that name. For Carter, not having to worry about that process being complete by their graduation next year is a relief.
“It’s a very big deal knowing which name you’re going to be able to present,” they said. “I sort of just expected that if I didn’t get my legal name changed, I wasn’t going to be able to have that. There’s definitely a little weight off the shoulders knowing, ‘Oh, that’s something I’m going to be able to do.’”
While this news was met with excitement for students who don’t go by their legal names, Carter said they feel this is only a small piece of what the University could be doing to support transgender and nonbinary students.
“It is definitely a relief to know that this is a thing that will be available to me,” Carter said. “But at the same time, it feels like a very surface-level thing that the University can do.”
Another process with disparities between the presentation of legal and affirmed names is during the course registration process, as ConnectCarolina lists faculty members' legal names rather than affirmed names, Phoenix said. Another is on UNC One Cards, as they are considered legal forms of identification and reflect students’ and staff's legal names.
“I want to engage in a discussion looking at the UNC ID maybe not being defined as a legal document so that people can have their chosen name on that document, because we display that document everywhere,” Phoenix said.
Carter and Phoenix said other issues that need to be addressed by the University include making non-gender-specific housing options available, expanding employee health care to cover hormone treatments and transition surgeries and addressing heteronormativity on campus.
“I think there’s a danger in thinking, ‘Oh we did this so we’ve got it,’” Phoenix said. “There’s so many more things we need to do.”
To confirm or update the name that appears on their diplomas, students can go to their ConnectCarolina Student Center.
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