LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Outed by the University

- in In English, Insändare

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The Lund University administrative system puts transgender students in a vulnerable state as it spreads information about their transgender status, writes Cecilia Victoria Muszta.

As someone studying at Lund University for over two years, I thought that I was familiar with the institutional hurdles that come with being a transgender student. However, as I have applied to courses outside my main subject for the first time, I have experienced humiliating and possibly dangerous situations that I have not been prepared to face, and especially newly arrived students are not prepared to face. In this short article, I will present the issues that come with the rather strict institutional practice when it comes to handling the names and identification of students.

As I have applied to the new courses of this term, and begun studying outside my department, I was shocked to learn that my transgender status had been revealed to a great many people – essentially anybody who has access to Lund University’s Canvas platform. I also had to realize, to my surprise, that there is no way to prevent this, because there is no option to change one’s display name on either Canvas or Ladok.

Both of these platforms are connected to the personal identity of each student, signified by the personnummer that every foreign, as well as native, student receives upon entering the Swedish administrative system. In such a highly digitalized society, where access to almost any spaces is tied to the personal identity one is assigned to, humiliating situations for transgender people are quite common. From gyms to pubs, there are myriads of places where someone, who has an identity card and a name that does not match their physical appearance, can get into unnecessary trouble. Essentially, there is one name, one code, one reality for everyone, and if that name and code is in conflict with the actual appearance and reality of a certain person, the struggle begins.

This struggle can be defined by a constant effort to hide one’s sensitive data every time one tries to access any public facility. Nobody wants to end up being a target of jokes or harassment due to having to reveal their queer status upon entering a pub, for example. It can be avoided fairly well, however, as in my experience, most people I have come across have treated my personal data respectfully and appropriately. But not Lund University. I have yet to come into contact with any other organizations in Sweden that have purposefully spread information about my transgender status, as well as my so called deadname. The latter is the given name transgender people are assigned to, but no longer associate with.

Due to the nature of the Swedish administration outlined above, I found no way to change my digital identity within the context of the university. As a result, at the beginning of each course I had to explain who I am, and basically introduce the entire administrative process that has lead to me being locked into the status of a digitally outed transgender person. This certainly was a tiring assignment, and humiliating as well. Contrary to much of what can be seen in the media, a large group within the transgender community has no desire to reveal their transgender status unless it is absolutely necessary. Not only because coming out should be a personal act of trust in an environment where one can feel safe, but also because revealing one’s transgender status can lead to harassment, physical danger, and institutional discrimination.

However, due to the nature of the university administration, this information was released without my consent, in settings where it was clearly not absolutely necessary. Without a doubt, when it comes to writing assignments and grading them, one has to reveal their assigned, legal name. But I cannot see any reason, whatsoever, why everybody who can access Canvas has to know my deadname, and thus, know about my transgender status. This can lead to a series of dangerous situations, and the university clearly lacks the tools to protect transgender students from these. While in theory, anti-discrimination policies are present at every faculty, the revealing of sensitive data in itself functions as a target sign on the back of transgender students. Whether it comes to contact with other students, or the teaching personnel itself, it would be naive to expect that no conflicts will arise, or that discriminatory acts could effectively be proven by the victims. It is practically impossible to prove that one has been given a worse grade, or been denied promotion in a professional environment, based on their gender identity.

I see no practical reason to reveal any student’s legal name outside the environment of examination and grading. And even then, it is nobody’s business but that of the teacher and the student. While theoretically, there is a possibility in the Swedish administrative system to change one’s name, but not code, on the personal identity card, and thus in the administrative system. But it takes a long time, and the information for new students is simply inaccessible. Legal gender change, for Swedish citizens, also exists on a theoretical level, but with the waiting times to gender clinics exceeding three or four years these days, it is not an immediate solution either. Until then, transgender students are entirely dependent on the sympathy or antipathy of others. While there is no reason for me to suspect ill will from the side of the university’s administration, the system itself is creating a dangerous environment for transgender students. It is an environment that can be especially daunting for those who are new, and unfamiliar with the bureaucratic nuances of the Swedish administration. A simple solution could be the option to change the displayed name on the Canvas and Ladok platforms, which should, to my knowledge, pose no technical difficulties. I believe that it would lead to an academic environment where every student could feel safe and dignified, which would be to the benefit of all.

Cecilia Victoria Muszta, student