Content Warning: This article discusses deadnaming and misgendering
The National Union of Students has taken a step toward ending student deadnaming in Australian universities, bringing a new campaign and petition to all Australian universities.
The campaign, “My Records, My Rights: Stop Deadnaming at Universities!” was launched last month by the NUS Queer/LGBTQIA+ department in collaboration with the RUSU (RMIT University Student Union) Queer Department.
Deadnaming is the practice of calling a transgender or non-binary person by their birth name when they have changed their name as part of their gender transition. This is usually upsetting for gender-diverse people, and highly offensive when their preferred name is known. At universities, this usually happens when students update their names in a digital system, but are still referred to by their deadname on documentation and class sheets.
National Queer/LGBTQIA+ officer for the NUS, Jordy Duffey, said the campaign was launched in response to a survey of queer students in Australia.
‘Earlier this year, we conducted a survey with queer students which revealed that for 83% of queer students there was a persistent deadnaming issue at their university – 93% were deadnamed on student facing platforms, 20% by staff, and 43% were deadnamed on university accounts,’ Duffey said.
‘The NUS Queer/LGBTQIA+ department also conducted a survey in 2021 about the processes of updating student records which revealed the many barriers students face in updating their details and making the university aware of deadnaming and misgendering on campus.’
‘This has been an issue for many years at universities and has been raised by many queer advocates on campuses around the country, however, there has been a lack of action towards universities stopping the deadnaming.’
This lack of action, Duffey says, allows deadnaming to occur within the classroom, on student facing platforms, and within the services that the university provides to students.
The campaign is calling for an end to the practice of misgendering and deadnaming on these platforms and within classrooms, and to make the wellbeing of transgender, gender diverse, and non-binary students a priority.
‘There have been instances of students doing the right thing by updating their details, but their preferred name is optional for staff to access [in] the classroom,’ Duffey said, highlighting an example of passive deadnaming at universities.
‘A student’s chosen name should not be optional, it should be respected and acknowledged.’
The campaign, which aims to pressure universities into taking positive action on the issue, includes five key demands.
- Put pressure on external platform developers to add functionalities that allow students to end and display their true names
- Ensure University owned, student facing platforms have the functionality for students to enter their true names
- Ensure all student facing staff have access to students’ true names for student interactions
- Provide staff with training on inclusive language, including pronoun use and deadnaming and the risks to students when they are deadnamed or misgendered
- Provide students with a comprehensive guide on how to change their names on all student facing platforms.
The petition accompanying the campaign currently has about 2,000 signatures.
According to the NUS’ survey of queer students at sixteen Australian universities:
- 83% of students said there was a persistent deadnaming issue at their university
- 93% were deadnamed on student facing platforms
- 20% were deadnamed by staff
- 43% were deadnamed on university accounts
- 13% were deadnamed on their student ID
When asked for comment, QUT’s acting Manager of Strategic Media and Corporate Communications, Madeline Healy, said the University stands by their ‘trans and nonbinary staff and students’ and that they ‘deserve to be referred to by their preferred names and pronouns’, and to experience a ‘sense of belonging.’
‘QUT recognises the importance of effectively addressing the issue of deadnaming, and the positive impact this will have in terms of inclusive and supportive learning environments,’ Healy said.
‘QUT is committed to making the necessary changes required, and where possible, to eliminate the practice.’
‘QUT continues to work with the QUT Pride Network to celebrate diversity, network, collaborate, share experiences and to represent the communities in university business and policy making.’
Creative Industries tutor and former QUT Student Guild Queer officer Amy Sargeant made the issue of deadnaming a focus of her tenure in 2021, but found QUT to be either absent or uninterested.
‘When I tried to make headway on that as Queer officer there was never a clear answer … just – “I.T. is working on it, it will take 5 years”,’ she said.
Healy said that ending deadnaming at the University is challenging, involving ‘numerous systems and is not always possible.’
‘QUT has invested significant resourcing into reviewing our IT platforms and amending, where possible, to enable recording of true names,’ she said.
‘As QUT invests significantly in future system capacities, we ensure such requirements are incorporated.’
But Sargeant says she never heard anything concrete from the University.
‘A request for a system review was submitted by the Guild and Queer Collective in early 2021,’ she continued, saying any possible implementation date remained unknown or un-communicated.
Currently, QUT is alleged to still deadname students after they change their preferred name, and the promised system update remains over the horizon.
The Queer and Women’s forum discussed this issue last year. You can read about it here.