This is a guest blog post by Dr. Rodney Parks, Registrar and Director of Summer College at Elon University, and a 2017 Blackboard Catalyst Award Recipient of the Optimizing Student Experience Award.

Diversity and inclusion: A multifaceted approach

The cultivation of an inclusive campus community is a common strategic objective among colleges and universities. In fact, because underrepresented students are still disproportionately represented along all points of the student life cycle, at many schools it has become a priority (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). In the information age – in which the elements of identity have become both a source of collective empowerment and a targeting mechanism for exclusion – our institutions of higher education have invested heavily in the promotion of diversity and inclusivity.

For many, this calls to mind refined recruitment strategies, the construction of safe spaces and resource centers, and the incorporation of diversity competencies into a variety of curricular and co-curricular experiences. A frequently overlooked area of investment is the modification of campus systems that access, relay, and display information about student identity. Though this is a far less visible method of support, proper representation of our students across campus can subtly strengthen (or, in its absence, absolutely undermine) our more evident inclusion initiatives.

A new university policy

In 2016, a committee at Elon University drafted a policy that would allow students to adopt a “campus name” that could be used in place of legal name in all areas where the latter was not required. This idea was proposed by the LGBTQ Task Force to specifically address the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming students. I was included on this committee to help ensure that we captured all campus systems in which a student’s name would appear. This included class rosters, our learning management system, and even reports from the student information system. Once approved, a small cadre of transgender students quickly took advantage of the policy to adopt a campus name that better reflected their identity. Several of these students quickly noticed that there were several systems that we missed, including Mail Services. In this case, a transgender student received a package addressed to their chosen name, which the Mail Services staff struck out with marker and replaced with their legal name before releasing it to them.

With the help of students, we addressed this and other issues related to campus name by directly modifying auxiliary systems. However, we soon realized that programming our transactional systems to point to the correct name field could in some cases require considerable upkeep. As these systems are changed, updated, deployed in a new setting, or replaced by a new solution, each would need specific attention. I consulted with our Campus Technology Support group to search for a solution. Laura Kappert, our Director of Application Technologies, suggested that we begin with Blackboard Transact, which we launched a year prior.

Blackboard Transact supports inclusion priorities

Blackboard Transact was adopted to allow the Phoenix Card (student ID card) to be used in cashless transactions. From meal plans to Phoenix Cash or Food Dollars, Blackboard Transact manages the processing and capture of key information. Since its implementation, we have created several custom exchanges to track a variety of needs around campus:

  • Academic Advising uses the Transact system to swipe in a zero dollar transaction and allow students to self-select the reason for their visit. Reports were created to track common reasons for visits and peak utilization.
  • University Athletics uses the Transact system at sporting events to track participation and create “Phoenix Points” to reward fan participation.
  • Campus Recreation uses the Transact system to log usage of the facilities (fitness, gym, swimming pool, etc.). Reports were created to analyze facility utilization.
  • The Writing Center uses the Transact system for time keeping for student staff. Reports are created to validate and cross-reference student timesheets.

Given these and other potential utilities of the Transact system, we decided to modify its link to Colleague to prevent future mishaps related to student identity. Laura’s team successfully programmed our data feed to Transact to ensure that alternate name logic sends the appropriate name from Colleague to connected systems. As Transact was integrated into a variety of campus experiences and events, we seamlessly connected to the campus name field in our SIS and an indicator that overrides legal name.

By leveraging Transact to proliferate campus name in place of legal name, we are helping our campus community members that use the system and the student ID to better understand what it means to be transgender or gender-nonconforming. This change also allows us to support the development of a shared language and shared expectations, as the unrestricted use of campus name reinforces our commitment to inclusivity.

Blackboard made the implementation of the Transact solution remarkably easy, but its inherent flexibility has paid significant dividends for our most vulnerable student populations. It has added significance to the use of campus name, making it more visible and accessible, thereby enabling the campus community to recognize students for who they are and who they choose to be. We are a campus that embraces difference, and by allowing us to update our campus systems en masse with inclusive nomenclature, the Transact system supports our priorities and helps us create a more inviting and empowering campus environment.

 

 

About the author

Dr. Parks is the Registrar and Director of Summer College at Elon University where he has served since 2013. Dr. Parks earned his Ph.D. in Counseling from the University of Georgia and has published numerous articles on retention challenges of unique populations of students. Dr. Parks is also well known in the Registrar community for his work to expand the academic record. Most recently, he was part of the AACRAO/NASPA grant initiative that turned Elon’s co-curricular transcript into visual infographics to better illustrate a picture of the comprehensive 4-year student experience.

 

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