Transgender students want policy change at Asheville college

Community college administrators are working now to review name-change policy revisions

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: January 23, 2014 in News

AB_Tech_LogoASHEVILLE, N.C. — Transgender students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College say they want new policy changes to allow for their preferred names as they transition. School officials have been accused of stalling but say they are currently working to make new policy recommendations.

Basil Soper, 27, is in his fourth semester at the college and says he attempted to have his name changed on Moodle, the college’s online learning application, after being outed to other students. The online learning suite contains forums and discussion boards which include students’ names which are viewable by other students.

Last spring, Soper says, a student from one of his classes approached him in a men’s restroom on campus.

“I was in the restroom and he turned around from the urinal while I was waiting to use a stall and he referred to me by my birth name,” Soper says. “He said, ‘What do you think you’re doing in here. You don’t belong in here.’”

Soper says the student was aggressive and, in the presence of others in restroom, the situation became uncomfortable and embarrassing.

“I didn’t say anything,” Soper says. “I didn’t want a confrontation, so I walked out as soon as I could.”

It was then and after a couple other questions regarding his name on Moodle that Soper says he began to talk to administrators. Recently, Soper began an online petition on Change.org, in which he claimed administrators drug their feet and said names could only be changed with legal documentation.

“They didn’t do anything from the conversations I had with them,” Soper says. “They turned me away every time.”

It’s only after Soper contacted the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the group sent a letter to the school, Soper claims, that administrators shortened his feminine birth name to a more masculine-sounding nickname.

Kerri Glover, Asheville-Buncombe’s director of community relations and marketing, tells qnotes the ACLU letter and Soper’s request were received simultaneously but handled separately. Even still, the school has been and continues to work to address Sopers and several other students’ concerns. It’s clear now, she said, that students are seeking a definitive policy change to address name changes on online applications like Moodle and elsewhere.

Glover says administrators have tried to be understanding. “We’re very sensitive to that,” she says. The school’s vice president of student services, Glover says, “didn’t know there was a problem until he got the petition. Now we understand that students want a policy change.”

Administrators have referred the potential policy change to the school’s diversity committee.

“It’s just a matter of reviewing what’s possible,” Glover says.

Other schools in North Carolina already offer policies and procedures for name changes for transgender students. At the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, for example, transgender students can request that their name be changed in all publicly-accessible areas, such as Moodle, which UNC-Charlotte also uses, as well as attendance rolls and email. Under that policy, legal names stay associated with a student’s account, but not publicly accessible; any future name changes require legal documentation.

Dr. Terry Brasier, Asheville-Buncombe’s vice president of student services, says the matter will be referred to the school’s diversity committee.

“I am completely open to accommodating these requests,” Brasier said in a statement via Glover, “but we’re looking into how we can best accomplish this given our existing policy and procedures and I.T. capabilities.”

Soper hopes changes come sooner rather than later, even though he’s already been outed and been forced to take a more public role in seeking policy changes.

“School was one of the few places where I wasn’t out, where people didn’t know how I was born and what body I was born with,” Soper says. “It was really nice and I wanted it to stay that way. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have that capability anymore.”

For future students, Soper says, “…someone else will have [pushed for change]. For them, it’s great. For me, it’s not really all that wonderful.”