April 7, 2022
UCalgary invests in its putting people first program
The University of Calgary strives to support students, to enable research and to assist employees through a network of individual and often independent programs, teams and systems. Leaders are now working to find new ways to bring all those different processes and procedures together, to streamline ways of working and put people as the main focus of everything we do.
As described to the campus community during a virtual town hall meeting on March 10, 2022, a systematic process is underway to evaluate and strengthen university foundations.
The university is committing to making upgrades and aligning institutional systems such as Student Enrolment Services, Human Resources, Finance and IT to enable a “one-university” approach that focuses on putting people first. Some of the positive changes are expected to be in place over the next six months, others will take longer.
One issue being addressed is that of preferred names.
“We’ve heard increasing examples where challenges with our data systems are having a negative impact on members of our community, particularly when it comes to the difficulties individuals face when trying to use a preferred name,” says Dr. Teri Balser, PhD, provost and vice-president (academic).
“Processes need to be supportive of the people they’re meant to serve. This is a critical issue and as an institution, we need to support all members of our community.”
Preferred names are currently accessed inconsistently by various systems across campus. The result is that while there are methods for students, faculty and staff to update their name, the change doesn’t always show up in all of the places an individual would expect.
Having institutional systems default to legal names instead of the names people choose can be deeply painful – especially for members of the gender non-conforming community whose legal name may not align with their affirming or true names.
“It’s not just one instance of someone’s misuse of a dead name as opposed to a true and affirming name in one single class. It’s every class. It’s logging into D2L and not seeing your true name there. These experiences of (interpersonal, physical or psychological) violence come up consistently across campus,” said Pedrom Nasiri, MStJ, BA’15, PhD candidate, and a founding member of the Trans Community Coalition, a group of UCalgary students, faculty and staff who worked with senior leaders to help inform process changes around naming in the past.
Nasiri pointed out that it isn’t just the trans community that faces this challenge. Indigenous individuals who wish to be known by their Indigenous names given through ceremony or by family members, international students who may prefer to be known by a more Western name, and many others are “entangled in these multiple systems that need to be addressed,” says Nasiri.
Without a single means of updating preferred names within UCalgary systems, the burden of having to identify and update information in each individual university program, software or system falls upon the individual. That’s a lot of emotional and physical labour placed on the individual by the system, Nasiri says.
Balser agrees that UCalgary systems need to shift to put people first.
“The University of Calgary is committed to ensuring that we use names in ways that are respectful and inclusive, and to ensuring our administrative practices and processes reflect this,” Balser says. “I am personally committed to this, and I am grateful for the concerns raised and conversations that have helped me better recognize the harm that inconsistent practices cause, and on behalf of the university I apologize to all those affected. It is clear that uncontrolled disclosure can increase the possibility of negative and even violent interactions on and off campus. Our desire is to create safe environments for all, including gender-diverse, culturally diverse, transgender, and intersex community members, and I know that we need to do more than we have to date,” said Balser.
“It should not be the case that individuals are forced to bear the burden of calling out the problems. We are taking steps to tackle system inconsistencies that have caused harm.”
In October, 2021, UCalgary approved a process to make it easier for students to make changes to non-affirming names. Students are now able to update their legal names on university ID documents without undergoing a legal name change. This work was made possible through consultation with our students and alumni. We know there is still much to do to ensure preferred names are consistently displayed and used across the entire university.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as updating a database,” says Trevor Poffenroth, interim chief information officer, Information Technologies. “We have a network of systems and software, some connected and others independent, that houses and uses key information like names. There’s no single means to make this happen, yet. But it is something we are actively working to resolve. We have done some things, and now we are working on the harder things.”
The new university-wide process review is an ideal time to comprehensively explore the interconnection of systems, from UCID cards and enrolment services, to student career and internship programs and more. And the issue of comprehensive use of preferred names is one of many aspects that will be addressed in this process.
“The fact that the university is orienting to putting people before policies, to try to find pressure points for students, staff and faculty is commendable,” says Nasiri. “That is something we are really happy to see the institution addressing right now, something we are very thankful for.”
Updating how names appear in university systems is just one of many changes underway as part of this system review. A new recognition program will also be created to find more ways to celebrate the contributions of our campus community members as UCalgary continues its work to put people first.
“We know from our community that we need to do better, particularly when it comes to the use of non-affirming names,” says Balser.
“Our systems are compounding the hurt individuals feel every day, adding to the burden and trauma faced by those who simply want to be known for who they are. We need to keep moving forward, finding new ways to integrate our systems, to make it clear to all that this isn’t just a piece of data. It’s about seeing, supporting, and celebrating people who make our campus community thrive.”
This article is part of a series of updates to the campus community of UCalgary’s ongoing progress to review its systems and put people first.