B.C. students want their graduation parchments to prioritize chosen names

Institutions following legal practice by keeping legal names on parchment



Putting their chosen name in parentheses next to their legal one on B.C. post-secondary parchments is a practice that is emotionally harmful, some students are saying.

Students and B.C. post-secondary institutions are currently caught between legal necessity and personal identity within the matter of chosen names on school documents.

Since 2020, Langara has allowed students to apply to replace their legal name with their chosen one, or otherwise known as preferred names, on class lists and Brightspace. Only a chosen first name is allowed.

Second-year English student Austin Hesse said the use of his legal name on something tied to a current accomplishment, like his diploma, is painful.

“It brings up a lot of trauma and a lot of reminders,” said Hesse, adding that a lot of people have only ever known him as Austin.

The importance of a student’s identity

He said having his legal name disclosed is distressing, and for some students, having their legal name on their parchment poses a risk to their identity. 

“Especially if you’ve been out for years and you’re passing, you have surgeries, whatever,” he said. “It can instantly out you to people who you don’t want to be outed to. And it’s not fair to be outed as trans on the terms of a college instead of your own terms.”

Former Langara student River Pengelly, who went through the name change process at the college, said it went smoothly but she was disappointed that chosen names are only in parentheses on graduation parchments. 

“It’s almost like it’s being attributed to someone else when your name isn’t on it,” she said. “If that’s not the name you go by — whether you’re trans or not — that’s something that should be respected and brackets, in my experience, do not lead to that.”

Students wishing to change their name can request to add a chosen first name to any records on Brightspace and class lists through Langara’s Student Information Change Request form, without any supporting documentation. For a student to change their name on their parchment, they must submit a Request for Change of Student Information Form along with documentation of their name change.

Hesse said he’s also looked into the name change process at Langara but was bounced around over the course of several months. 

“I sat with a [Langara] counsellor trying to figure out where to find that website,” Hesse said. “We could not find it for half an hour. You can’t find contact information for anybody.”

Pengelly said the ability to easily change their name on documentation and class lists is vital for people to feel comfortable in a learning environment. 

“It’s hugely important for people to be able to show up as themselves and to have that recognized,” she said.

Legal bindings could save students from future troubles

Some students who are transitioning or have transitioned might have a chosen name but have yet to legally change it.

As such, Langara College officials say their hands are tied when it comes to the parchment. 

Arnie Clark from registrar and enrolment services told the Voice that parchments are considered legal documents, therefore require a student’s legal name. 

“For a student presenting documents where there is a discrepancy in the name, it could create problems obtaining a work permit or for financial aid or sponsorship, or potentially employment,” Clark said in an email. 

He said if the student is applying to another post-secondary institution, it may not be willing to accept the documents for admission or transfer credit.

Although bound by the same legalities, KPU and UBC also state on their website the importance of using chosen names as much as legally possible.

In 2018, UBC announced that chosen names would be shown as consistently as possible throughout its information systems. KPU, on the other hand, has had a student information change form even before UBC’s initiative.

Romy Kozak, the director of diversity in the office of equity and inclusive communities at KPU, said the university worked closely with both BC Registrars Association and TransFocus Consulting to create the form. 

Kozak said the university is still working on having only chosen names on its parchments.

I would like there to be some sort of version of the parchment that is for like, explicitly for display that could show the name somebody uses,” said Kozak, who is also a member of the Preferred Name and Gender Information committee.

Hesse said having his name on his parchment is important because it reflects a monumental personal achievement. 

“It’s a document that I take pride in for my accomplishments over the last two years, not a document that everyone needs to see,” Hesse said.

Kozak acknowledged while there could be potential legal issues with chosen names, it is more important to reduce the harm caused by using birth names, also known as deadnames.

“I think there’s two types of harms. And we have to sort of weigh what is the most probable, what is the most harmful,” Kozak said.

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