There are many reasons why someone might want to change their display name on Zoom. They may not go by their legal name, whether that be due to a gender transition, preference or safety reasons; or they may want to add pronouns to the end of their name to make the virtual classroom a more supportive environment for gender non-conforming peers.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone, and for some, seeing their legal name on a computer screen every day only makes it tougher. It is not the place of professors to take away students' right to choose what they're called.
Western University gave professors a set of suggestions and rules for their Zoom classrooms to brace against any security or privacy issues. A key suggestion requires students to access Zoom from a Western account. This process automatically sets students’ names as they appear on OWL — or, for Ivey students, Learn — and disables their ability to rename themselves.
But, as of Sept. 27, all professors are required to have a waiting room or password on their Zoom room — rendering the requirement of the Western account authentication process unnecessary. With a password and waiting room included in the process, the security risk of the "rename" function remaining on in a Zoom room is incredibly low.
Not letting students change their Zoom name only results in an already marginalized group of students feeling even more trapped as their peers view them and call them by a name they no longer use.
School can be the one place students feel safe to express their gender identity or safe from past traumas associated with their given name.
While it's true that students have the option to either perform a legal name change or use Western’s preferred name form in order to be recognized for who they are, both processes are lengthy. The Office of the Registrar currently has a backlog of one to two weeks for any requests and legal name changes taking weeks or even months and costs hundreds of dollars.
It’s also possible a student might select a name that is inappropriate or offensive, but Western’s Zoom best practices allows professors to eject students if an incident like that occurs. Moreover, a few students making poor choices shouldn't ruin marginalized students’ ability to feel validated in their chosen name.
Zoom authentication exists for a reason, but there are clear alternatives available that do not force marginalized students to be deadnamed by their professors and peers.