Deadnames: Dallas College should change its policies for trans students

Emmy Hardy, Copy Desk Chief

Do you know what it is like to feel humiliated? To feel a sense of dread every time you open a piece of homework online? To cringe whenever you join a meeting? I do. I experience all of these painful emotions daily, and this is why:

My name is Emmy Hardy. I am a transgender woman.

For those not entirely familiar with the term, put simply, this is a definition: My body and my mind have been out of sync since the day I was born. Due to my biology at birth, I was assigned the sex of male by a doctor. However, over the course of 17 years of living a lie, I concluded that this assessment was incorrect.

Through an arduous process that involved self-reflection, research and mental breakdowns, I finally emerged from high school, determined to no longer hide who I am.

Coming to Dallas College, I was understandably nervous. This is Texas after all. The state tends to have some of the most consistent and extreme transphobia in the country.

I hoped to be able to start over at Brookhaven Campus, with my new, real name and my true self. I was quickly disappointed.

While nearly all students, staff, and faculty I met were friendly and accepting of me and who I am, I found none of that acceptance in the institutional policies of Dallas College. As it turns out, Dallas College’s policy on students changing their names is an outdated and ridiculous one.

In order to change my name in the online system at  Dallas College, I must first acquire legal documentation from a court confirming my new name is valid and legal. That may seem like an easy ask. I assure you, it is quite the opposite.

Convincing a court in the state of Texas to legally change your name or gender is already a difficult and costly task, but factor in the detail of being a transgender individual, and that task quickly plummets in its definition from difficult to impossible.

Because of all the red tape the Texas legal system has thrown up over the years, this avenue was not an option for me. Yet it is also the only one offered at Dallas College.

So what does this mean for me?

Every semester, I start the first day of classes with a sense of impending dread, knowing that only minutes into class, I will experience soul-crushing humiliation. The professor will begin reading off names for attendance, and without fail, my deadname will be spoken out loud for all present to hear.

As my cheeks turn red from embarrassment and self-loathing, I raise my hand and swiftly correct them by informing them of my real name that I wished to be addressed by. After that moment, most professors will try to correct themselves going forward, although likely with no small amounts of slip-ups – an understandable thing, with how many classes each of them teach.

Yet this is not the end of the emotional damage. As I sign in to Blackboard, what is the first thing I see? Bright, big text reading “Welcome [deadname]!” Thus, I am sent to my courses feeling further degraded and dehumanized.

Many classes require regular participation in online discussion posts/forums. Normally I would be excited by such a task, as I thrive on an intelligent discussion. Yet whenever I submit a post of response, what is it that myself and everyone in the class sees? Once again, it is my deadname, presented for all to see.

I must manually sign my posts with my actual name just to get others to address me in a way that won’t actively make me want to hurt myself.

I hope by now you have begun to see the issue. Dallas College claims to be an institution that accommodates and accepts all, yet when it comes to students such as myself, they have utterly and totally failed.

There is nothing excusable about this. Other universities and institutions have incredibly easy systems in place for these processes.

Maddox Jay Price, a former Brookhaven student, said: “When I transferred to The University of Texas, the name-change policy was so extremely simple. All I had to do was go see my counselor for the department I was in. They made sure my name was changed on roll, online and on my ID. They never even asked if I had legally changed it.”

And if that does not serve as good enough evidence, simply look to the counseling office at Brookhaven Campus. They have created their own separate system in which a student may list their preferred name on a form, and from then onward, only be addressed as such. This is an incredibly simple change to introduce. It is baffling and upsetting to see Dallas College lag behind.

This discrimination does not just apply to students. I am also an employee of the college. Once again, I am listed as my deadname, with there being nothing, outside of attaining the impossible court order, for me to do.

On Microsoft Teams, my colleagues and friends are forced to search and identify me by a title I despise. In meetings, right under my picture, anyone can clearly see the name I cannot bear to view. It is an extremely degrading and demoralizing process, yet it happens every day.

Brookhaven Campus should be a safe space for me. That is what Dallas College claims on its multiple sites. Yet, I do not feel any of this so-called “safety” in any way. Instead, all I see is an institution I am currently dedicating many hours of my life causing me active distress almost every day; hurting someone they should be protecting.

The consequences of this ignorance are potentially extremely severe. By displaying my deadname, Dallas College has given those who wish me harm a weapon to use against me. My deadname is a weapon, one that bigots around me have never hesitated to wield in the past.

“For me changing my name was a safety concern,” Price said. “I took a couple of course[s] at Eastfield and told the professor I would not be participating in any online discussion groups because the system still displayed my deadname. She said I had to participate anyway or fail the assignment. I went over her head and had a meeting with the head of the Social Science Division. And that same day, my name was changed.”

We should not have to go around outdated and bigoted boundaries set up by the college, just so we can acquire basic acknowledgment of our individuality. Many trans people are not even out publicly. How can they be expected to march up to the head of an office and demand the rights that should have already been theirs from the start? What kind of academic institution actively ensures their students’ misery? How can it be so easy to change your profile picture online yet so difficult to change your name?

To put everything in perspective, under Dallas College policies, we are currently in a system where a student’s choice and opinion are largely discarded; where a student’s deadname is brightly presented for all to see; where the validity of a student’s gender identity is left to the discretion of an instructor calling roll on the first day of class. This is wrong and actively harmful. No student should be forced to suffer this way.

I now speak directly to those at Dallas College who have the power to change these policies: You claim to care for people such as me and claim to create an environment where we may feel safe. I have yet to experience this care or safety. If you truly care about us, a group of people who are already horribly discriminated against, you will enact changes to your systems. Until that comes to pass, I cannot truthfully say I am proud to be a member of Dallas College when Dallas College seems to have no pride in me.