LGBTQ+ Center spearheads data streamline

Transgender students and faculty have long fought to have the correct name appear in systems


Chase Bagnall Koger, Staff Writer

Since 2014, LGBTQ+ Center Director Dr. A.J. Mazaris has spearheaded a slow but steady renovation of Wake Forest’s network of data systems that will better reflect transgender students’ chosen names and pronouns in different sectors of campus life.

Students’ legal names must be displayed on some legal documents, such as I-9 employment or voting registration forms, but there are many times when it is not necessary to use a student’s legal name instead of their chosen one. In fact, doing so can be damaging.

There are many reasons that students may want to be called a name that differs from their legal name — for instance, it may be more comfortable for some students to use a childhood nickname or an “American name” while on campus. Using correct names is critical to the well-being of transgender students and faculty.

“The use of that name is important because it destigmatizes their experience and gender, decreases dysphoria and is one of the key factors in creating inclusive practice and environment for trans students, faculty and staff,” Mazaris said.

The initiative, known as the Data Standards Working Group, seeks to create a uniform data standard on chosen names and gender markers at Wake Forest that would dictate when legal names must be used and ensure that, in all other circumstances, documents reflect community members’ chosen name and pronouns.

Though the Wake Information Network previously had a field for students to provide their “preferred name,” this information was not communicated effectively to different offices around campus – students who input a different chosen name were still identified by their legal, or “dead” names by staff who did not have access to their “preferred name.”

“When I swipe in at the cafeteria or in fitness classes and the staff calls out my dead name, it’s uncomfortable and possibly dangerous,” a student who wishes to remain anonymous said.

The initiative first popped up on Wake Forest’s radar when the 2014 President’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which evaluated campus policy, equity and climate, recommended a “deeper dive” into the naming systems.

After North Carolina’s House Bill 2, also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” elevated the fight for transgender rights to the national stage, the Obama administration issued a Title IX guidance that outlined how educational institutions are responsible for protecting transgender students’ privacy and wellbeing, including in data systems. Though this guidance was rescinded in 2017 by the Trump administration, Wake Forest continued with the initiative.

In 2019, a “series of concerns from employees” revealed issues with the current systems that reduced workplace privacy and comfort. In response, Vice President Penny Rue and Chief Human Resources Officer Carmen Canales chartered the Wake Forest Task Force on Names, Gender Markers, and Data Systems to further investigate the issue and evaluate potential solutions, which in turn spurred the creation of the Data Standards Working Group with Mazaris and David Eaton from the WFU Information Systems department as co-chairs.

In conjunction with Information Systems, the Registrar’s Office, Human Resources, the School of Law and several other partners, the Data Standards Working Group is responsible for creating the data standard for naming systems at Wake Forest – ensuring it becomes legally approved – and serving as the “communications champion” for the new system across campus.

The project’s large number of collaborators reflects the nuance of the issue, though certain aspects of the initiative are still up for debate.

DeaconOne cards seem to be an obvious place where students preferred names should be displayed, but since Wake Forest submitted a request to the state of North Carolina to allow DeaconOne cards to be used as a valid form of identification in elections, this may not be possible (voter IDs must display a person’s legal name to verify identity).

“There are lots of different moving parts, some of which there are other implications for. For some of them, though, they are that way because no one has ever thought to change them,” Mazaris said.

Despite ongoing challenges, the privacy and consistency of the Wake Forest data systems have come a long way. Since Mazaris joined the staff in 2011, the Wake Information Network has been updated to allow students and staff to input their preferred name, gender identity and pronouns. As the Data Standards Working Group continues to cut through the red tape surrounding Wake’s IS networks, students can expect more changes to come.