University of York launches more inclusive username reform

20/11/2022

James Clay explores the mixed responses of the University decision to alter IT usernames

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By James Clay

Earlier this term the University of York announced the decision to randomise the letters used at the start of usernames of all users starting at the University from September 2023 while the IT username and email of current students will not change.

The current system, which uses students’ registered initials to form the username, has faced criticism as many students’ identities and names are no longer represented by the initials of the names they began university with.

As a result, IT has frequently been asked by students and staff if they can change their username and the recent decision aims to increase inclusivity for students. The decision will impact users who have taken a different surname through marriage, divorce or the adoption of a western name.

The decision has particularly been welcomed by the Trans community at the university. This is due to the negative impact that ‘deadnaming’– being referred to using one’s previous name– can have on somebody who has changed their gender identity.

Admitting that usernames may now become slightly harder to initially remember, the IT department recognised the confusion that this may cause. Furthermore, the IT department has created a blocklist to prevent any profanities, insensitive words or common short names from randomly becoming usernames.

The decision was welcomed by the YUSU LGBTQ+ Network, who saw it as an inclusive development for all Trans students who will be joining the University of York at the start of the next academic year.

Making a statement on the official Instagram page, the LGBTQ+ Network commented that: “Although this only applies to new students, this is still a massive win for trans students at the university.”

This positivity was matched by Hannah Nimmo, Community and Wellbeing Officer at YUSU, who told Nouse that: “I hope that the changes to University usernames for new students will prevent the likes of dead naming, and hopefully allow students to freely select their own name and be called whatever they wish to be named."

She added, "I have been very disappointed to see the negative responses to the changes in national press. Transphobia is never okay and has no place on our campus. Thankfully the response amongst York students has been overwhelmingly positive, so to see the transphobic responses from individuals online is disheartening but ultimately emphasises the need for this change to be put in place."

In a final comment, Hannah said: “At York, I am aiming to develop our inclusive community, so that everyone is welcome and celebrated for being who they are, no matter what. This change to usernames is a small but powerful one, and is a positive step forward in creating a fully inclusive community for all students here at York.”

While welcomed by some, the decision has also faced a degree of controversy. Toby Young, the director of the Free Speech Union, criticised the move, arguing that: “This seems like a parody of political correctness gone mad, the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a Netflix series satirising the ideological capture of universities by woke cultists.”

Having reported upon the decision made by the University of York IT department, the Telegraph saw a number of individuals writing critically within the online comment section. These criticisms were generally centred around the idea that such a change was unnecessary, given that the decision affects a relatively small proportion of users.

Commenters also suggested that it would make it harder to identify the exact address of a potential email recipient. Some of the online critics have suggested the possibility of allowing students and staff to change their IT username and email part way through their time at the University of York.

As the IT username is the primary identifier in a large number of disconnected systems, the IT department is of the view that this is not currently possible. A University of York spokesperson said: “We see this as a really positive change. With our existing systems, we are not able to fulfil any requests by staff or students to change their username to more accurately reflect their current initials- for example, as a result of marriage or assuming a new identity."

They added, “The aim of our new approach, which uses randomly selected letters and numbers to create usernames, is to break the perceived link between a person’s name and username, therefore avoiding any issues individuals may have on the inclusion of their current or future initials.