Transgender students face uncertainty over whether preferred names will be allowed for commencement


Morgana Carroll and Kai Kyzar

If you go to register for CWU commencement and graduation, you’ll see a few options on the form. You’ll see an option to explain how your name is pronounced. You’ll see the option to share the date with your friends and family. What you won’t see is an option to tell CWU Commencement that your legal name on file isn’t the one you want announced during graduation.

Transgender students on campus have reported that there was no option to apply online for graduation commencement under anything other than the name CWU has on file, which in many instances is their legal name. 

According to Director of Executive Events Lauren Zeutenhorst, the commencement office doesn’t have access to student data, including name changes.

“We don’t have access to student files,” Zeutenhorst said. “Any student information… applying to graduate name, changes, preferred name, all of that takes place within the MyCWU system … So commencement doesn’t have access.”

Zeutenhorst said she was surprised to find out this was the case and she doesn’t want this to happen to any student.

“I just want to reassure all of our students that they matter to us and this is their day, and it’s really important to us that they have the experience that they want, and so we would never intentionally try to take that away from them,” Zeutenhorst said.

Zeutenhorft also said there isn’t a field on the commencement form for preferred names due to MarchingOrder, the website they use, being managed by a third party. 

Zeutenhorst said she is more than willing to accommodate transgender students, or anyone with a name different from the legal one on file, and if they send her an email to [email protected], she will ensure that the proper changes are made. 

“If there are people who want to change anything, any part of their name, we have some students who want their middle name added, if they email commencement and explain to us that they would like to change their name, then we as administrators can edit that information on the back end of the registration platform,” Zeutenhorst said.

Zeutenhorst said students could use the part of the form where students can fill in specific pronunciation to clarify their preferred name until the changes to the MarchingOrder form are made to allow the original name box to be edited by students.

Senior in Fine Arts Morgan James also said they were unfortunately not surprised that this is an issue.

“I am not surprised that this issue came up,” James said. “I shouldn’t be not surprised. It is kind of ridiculous that they were completely unprepared…. I’m not the first trans person to attend your school. Oh, God, no, no, not even close. Why are you surprised?”

Equality through Queers and Allies (EQuAl) Vice President Jessica Berkey said  that getting deadnamed at commencement would be a substantial problem. Dead names are the name that a transgender person was given at birth that they no longer associate with.

“Graduation is supposed to be a celebratory time where you’re like, ‘this is something I’ve accomplished. I worked really hard for this,’” Berkey said. “So to have such a slap in the face, I don’t think people know what kind of slap in the face a dead name [is].”

James said that being dead named in front of thousands of people at a ceremony is not only embarrassing, it could also lead to harm.

“Because if I have to have my dead name read out loud to thousands of people in Ellensburg, when there has been at least one hate crime on this campus every year that I have attended except for this year, but it’s not Pride Month yet. So you know, clock’s still ticking. I don’t want to do that,” James said.

According to Zeutenhorst, the university intends to build a new registration site that will include a box where students can fill in their “lived or preferred” name.


Story has been updated for clarity and accuracy. Lauren Zeutenhorst’s name was spelled incorrectly and we fixed this. We claimed that there was no way to change students’ preferred name on commencement forms; there is in fact a section where students can specify pronunciation, and according to the university, this is where students can suggest their preferred name online. We added additional quotes from Zeutenhorst for context.