Tolerance at Harvard: Students Lag Behind Administration

Part III in a III Part Series

Parul Agarwal

(Part I of this series appeared on May 9. Part II of this series appeared on May 11.)

After graduating from Harvard in 2010, Morgan never bothered ordering his diploma. The document—the symbol of so much hard work—still included his feminine middle name, and it served as a stinging reminder of an identity that Morgan had shed long before.

While still at the College, Morgan, who is trans and has since began transitioning from female to male, had started using male pronouns—he, his, him—and coming out to close friends. As a natural next step, Morgan filed a request with the Registrar that his feminine middle name be omitted from his official school records.

Since the Registrar requires that a student’s name be legally changed before his or her official records are altered, Morgan strategically asked for a name “omission.” Morgan hoped that since middle names tend to be extraneous his request might be granted.

But Morgan, who insisted that his last name not be included in this article to prevent potential discrimination, was shuffled from administrator to administrator until he received a flat out denial.

“I think of my name as something that belongs to me,” Morgan says, his voice slightly cracking with emotion. “It’s surreal, to go to an institutional body and be told, ‘No your name belongs to us,’ and this wasn’t even a name change but a name omission.”

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Michael P. Burke writes in an email that he was not aware of the situation.

A case like Morgan’s asks the simple question of what is in a name, and for individuals like him—someone whose gender identity breaks from the norm—a name change represents a milestone in their transition from one sex to another.

In recognition of that fact and after heavy lobbying by the Trans Task Force, FAS will roll out a new policy next fall that seeks to address individuals like Morgan. The new policy will allow students to choose a “preferred name,” which will allow them to specify a name besides their legal one and represents a victory for trans rights activists on campus.

With policies like these and others, Harvard has recently made strides to better protect and accommodate the needs of its trans population, but trans rights activists say that the University still lacks a tolerant environment for the trans community. While the University has, for example, increased the availability of gender neutral housing and now covers top surgery in the student medical plan, actions at the administrative level have yet to trickle down to its faculty and students to foster a sense of tolerance, trans activists say.

“The level of tolerance and understanding of trans issues on this campus is unacceptable,” says Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Marco Chan ’11. “You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve heard people say, ‘what a hot tranny mess’—and many of these are fairly liberal people who are well-educated and open-minded in a lot of other instances.”

COMING OUT

During his senior year, Morgan, who was a member of the Trans Task Force (TTF) as an undergraduate, facilitated a Trans 101 workshop—a component of the TTF’s educational outreach program—for his House’s tutors. Though he identified as trans at that point, Morgan did not come out to them during the session.

As the session wrapped up, one tutor asked, “Well, how many people are we really talking about here?” Taken aback, Morgan explained that there was a sizeable trans population on campus and said that the tutor might even know some students who were trans without realizing it.

The tutor laughed.

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