The University of York has stopped using students’ initials for their emails and usernames. According to the Telegraph, the initiative is intended as a “trans-friendly” move, while the Mail reports that “university bosses” believe the policy is “more inclusive”. The Metro, meanwhile, ran the story under the slightly misleading but undeniably entertaining headline: “Calling students by their names ‘too upsetting’.”
For many years York had a policy of using the first letters of students’ first names and surnames when creating their official emails and usernames. But in a move that York’s LGBTQ+ Network describes as “a massive win for trans students” (The Tab), university bosses have scrapped the practice on the basis that too many people are changing gender or asking to change their names for other reasons. From now on, the University will use randomly generated letters and numbers to assign email addresses to students.
Speaking to the Mail, the FSU’s General Secretary, Toby Young, said “it 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”.
Maybe so, but would even the most imaginative of modern satirists have thought to build into the plot a computerised identification system capable of protecting students from the psychologically harmful effect of incorporating their own initials in their email addresses?
To avoid inadvertently creating addresses and usernames that include profanity or hate speech, the University has made it clear that its new system will limit usernames to just three letters followed by three numbers. In addition, the University will no longer generate usernames using vowels or the letter ‘y’, thus ruling out virtually every known form of smirk-inducing, schoolyard naughtiness (e.g., “sex124”, “bum697”, etc.). Nevertheless, the threat remains of, say, an exclusionary “LGB” suddenly popping up without the “T” (Mail), or an “XX” letter combo triggering students with distressing thoughts of chromosomes and the female karyotype (Spiked). Thankfully, York seem to be alive to this danger – as the Mail reports, the University is now “asking students to report any combinations they think should be blacklisted”. (Although of course it’s highly unlikely that the University will be using the Mail’s term ‘blacklisted’ in any of its student-facing comms.)
York has also been keen to talk up the idea that using initials, which can change if students alter their gender while they are studying, will make the institution “a more inclusive place to work and study”, while also “improv[ing] students’ experience”. Whether that’s true or not, what we can say with absolute, cast-iron certainty is that there won’t be any upside to this initiative for university administrators, who will inevitably spend hours every day answering queries from students who’ve forgotten what their randomly generated email addresses are.
“Wouldn’t it be simpler,” asks Toby, “to just stick with the system that staff and students know and which everyone has got used to?” And if the University authorities want to cheer up trans students, “shouldn’t they just give them the money that they will inevitably have to spend dealing with the unintended consequences of introducing this crackpot idea”?
This is taken verbatim from the FSU's weekly newsletter (28/10/22). I'm a member out of both fellow-feeling and self-interest. Their website is here.