Bennington College claims to be a progressive community that welcomes all kinds of students. That being said, the resources available to students are often obscured behind a website that is impossible to navigate, meaning that very few people know how to reach them. One of these resources is the process for changing your name and pronouns at Bennington. There are a variety of different reasons that people may want to change their name, but the process of doing so is hidden away. It is my goal to shed light on this process and the experiences that current students have with it. Please note, when I refer to ‘changing your name at Bennington,’ I am specifically referring to the process by which you may have your name and pronouns changed in some records and databases for the administration. As many can attest, changing your name among social groups and interpersonal relationships can be a whole other hardship that I am not qualified in the slightest to speak on.
When I first embarked on this project, I reached out to the most obvious offices that should be able to help with this process: IT, Student Life, and The Provost and Deans office. IT was incredibly helpful in its response concerning the process they go through to change email addresses and names in their system called Active Directory. Both Active Directory and Google Directory are the major databases where names and identifying information are stored. On a call with the director of IT, Jude Higdon, they explained that the department and themselves “have been working on proper identity management for quite a while.” Higdon goes on to outline what happens when a student emails firstname.lastname@example.org asking for a name change on their ID card, email, or both. The request is “immediately escalated to level 2 or 3 support people and they will quickly make an adjustment in Active Directory and the email address” depending on what the student is requesting. They “should see very quick turnaround.” Higdon was not shy about admitting the shortcomings of this process. They explained that while interdepartmental databases may be updated, there is no way to confirm that every individual department’s spreadsheets are updated. “We’re trying to create that sort of efficiency… I want students to know that it is on us to fix the process.”
The Student Life office and The Provost and Deans office referred me to Jaime Babic, the registrar. According to Babic, roughly 50 students each year request that their names be changed on college records. Through my pleasant discussions with Babic and Higdon, I have outlined the exact process students must go through to change their name at Bennington.
Visit this form to request a name or pronoun change in the college’s records. The form clearly states the locations and records where your updated name will be used. This includes “Populi… course rosters, your Bennington Card, your student mailbox, Academic Services correspondence, alumni records, housing rosters, and College publications.” It also states that a students ‘legal name’ must be on medical/financial records and your transcript. This article will not be touching on how to legally change your name other than to say that if you have legally changed your name, you can give the college an official government-issued identification (Passport or Driver’s license etc.) to change your legal name on college documents.
The name and pronoun change form linked above gives you the option to request edits be made to your past course evaluations and to specify which name/pronouns are used when in communication with your legal guardian. A student who wished to remain unnamed recounted their experience with this process and let me know that not every one of their pronouns and names were changed in their evaluations and they lacked confidence in this process.
Finally, you should email the IT department at email@example.com to update your email address, ID card, and Active Directory if you so choose.
Of course, though it can be typed up quite easily, the process can certainly feel daunting and even scary for some. After an interview with Christopher Robin Wamsley, new light was shed on how complicated this process could be. Wamsley said if you choose to tick the box that requests the college not inform your parents, “it [doesn’t] really do much.” Wamsley stated that they chose not to get a new card or email address because “those are things that [their] parents would see,” which is a real concern that students wishing to change their names and pronouns at Bennington face. There seems to be a lack of communication of this among the administrators as Wamsley recounted a story of a staff member mistakenly not keeping this information confidential from their parents. That being said the help that Wamsley got was “prompt and helpful” from IT, but “they had to keep going back” because all accounts needed to be logged into again in order to update each system.
“I know that that form is on the website. I looked for it so many times and could not find it… I don’t know if that could be more accessible,” Wamsley stated. They continued: “I did not know that IT was who I should reach out to get my card changed… the information is there and straightforward when you find it, but it’s really difficult to find…. Looking back at it, I can see how people think it’s straightforward. But also like, when you have the information it’s easy to think things are straightforward.” That being said, “It’s hard to start the process and once you do… it was all on me to figure out what I needed to do next… I wish there was an automated response to that form that says…. Here are all of your options going forward”
In the hopes of clearing up this process, this quick graphic details exactly how to change your name and pronouns at Bennington. It will also be posted around campus soon after the publication of this article.
It is unclear, as of now, how many separate databases the college has that store student names and pronouns. Consequently, it is not possible to say where the shortcomings of this process are other than the lack of transparency that will (hopefully) be countered by this publication.
Thomas Finegar is a Fourth Year studying morally ambiguous characters in theatre through acting and psychology while writing a thesis on the topic this year. Along with being one of the Editors-in-Chief of The Beacon, Thomas is a Drama SEPC representative and a co-leader of the improv team. He is incredibly excited to be working with The Beacon this year and can’t wait to get publishing!