By Danielle Modica | September 23, 2021
Multiple University at Albany students have reported that university Mail Services continually misuses student preferred first names, causing public discomfort and inconvenience in picking up packages.
El Crowley, a sophomore at the university, has been experiencing this issue first hand. Crowley goes by they/them pronouns and uses the preferred name El, a derivative of their birth name Elizabeth. El has been attempting to pick up their packages from the Mail Services office for a month.
A preferred name, as defined by UAlbany Policy 1.3, is an “alternative first name designated by a student, faculty member, University or University-related Organization staff for use in certain situations and/or on certain University documents.” According to the policy, “Students will have the option to change or remove their Preferred Name at any time.” Entering, changing or removing a Preferred First Name can be “accomplished via self-service by students,” and that the university will make a good faith effort to update documents and systems that allow the use of preferred names in a timely manner.
Policy 1.3 was initiated in August 2018 by the UAlbany Division of Student Affairs to “allow students, faculty and staff to designate an alternative or preferred first name.” Policy 1.3 extends to all services on-campus except transcripts, diplomas, Financial Aid records, Student Account records, reporting to state and federal agencies, student employment records, housing contracts, international student records as well as medical records. Note that the UAlbany Mail Services is not a part of that list, but is also not included on the list of services that do accept preferred first names.
After every encounter El has had with the mail services employees, they have left with tears and without some of their packages. The packages included textbooks, school supplies and personal items that are essential to their functioning as a student.
Crowley explains that the staff-person at the front desk has been difficult handing over packages because the name “El” is not listed in their system. Crowley confirmed with the ASP that “El” is the name listed on their student ID and Residential Life forms.
UAlbany has been aware of this name change since they applied for enrollment at the university in the Spring of 2020 and have not had issues at any other campus service offices.
In one instance, the mailroom staff member eventually handed over the package, but not without insistence that Crowley ship packages to their deadname. The staff member also highlighted and circled Crowley’s deadname on the packages multiple times.
“I felt publicly humiliated and demeaned by the experience,” Crowley said.
“They were aggressive with me twice, and multiple different workers reprimanded me,” Crowley said. “I was not comfortable enough to ask for a manager at the time.”
Crowley’s partner, Madison Holman, contacted the University at Albany Mail Services to appeal the situation. Holman spoke with Mike Santiago of the Mail Services Department.
“He said that El needed to put their quad name & mailbox number on their packages in order for them to be identified,” Holman said. “He also told me that because El doesn’t have their preferred name listed in ResLife, they can’t pick any packages up.”
Holman continued to explain that she had images of both the packages and Residential Life information, where Crowley’s quad, mailbox, and preferred name are all correctly reported.
“As I was explaining how El called my phone in tears because of their treatment, he replied ‘Well, you weren’t there and I wasn’t there, so there’s not much I can do,’” Holman said.
Crowley reached out to the university’s Office of Equity and Compliance to further shed light on the situation. They spoke to Compliance Coordinator Robert Wilson over email and phone call, where they were assured that action was being taken to correct the issue.
Crowley has not received any updates from either Mail Services or the Office of Equity and Compliance.
Mail Services Director Steve Lampedusa says that he has not received any communication from the Office of Equity and Compliance about the issue.
“No formal complaints have been brought to my attention by the Office of Equity at this time,” Lampedusa said.
Unfortunately, these instances with the Mail Service office are not few and far between.
Another sophomore, who preferred to stay anonymous, has had similar experiences with mailroom staff.
“I’m frustrated with the fact that when I scan my Mobile ID no packages show up and I have to tell them my last name to manually search for them,” the anonymous source said. “It’s more of an inconvenience for me [than an embarrassment].”
They were also told by staff to change their preferred name but were not informed on how to do so. They have confirmed that their preferred name is already listed on the Residential Life website and on their student ID card.
“Someone told me that I had to get it fixed but didn’t say how [I could do that],” they said.
UAlbany Communications Specialist Kelsey Butz said that Mail Services was not “explicitly included” in the original list of campus offices that would use preferred first names.
“The current challenge in Mail Services is the result of a technical limitation that we are working diligently to resolve, Butz said. “The end result was that even if a student had supplied Residential Life or ID card services with a preferred first name, Mail Services was not able to see it.”
Lampedusa confirmed that Residential Life does not provide name changes to his department directly, but Mail Services can access the information through private queries.
This helps explain the disconnect between residential forms and Mail Services documents but adds more inquiry to why students are being asked to update Residential Life forms if Mail Services are not immediately notified about it.
“Mail Services is not included in the list [of on-campus services] that allows preferred first names,” Mail Services Director Steve Lampedusa said. “We do ‘warehouse’ names of students that continually use preferred names for future use.”
According to Lampedusa, switching to solely using preferred names or legal names is a more complicated issue than it seems.
“In the past we’ve attempted to exclusively use preferred names, and we’ve also exclusively used legal names,” Lampedusa said. “We’re more than happy to use preferred names, but we must ensure all variables are considered when a policy is implemented.”
“There are bigger implications to name adjustment that could be problematic,” Lampedusa said.
Mail Services has had instances in the past where students requested to use only their preferred name but did not notify their families of the name change, causing Mail Services to return mis-named packages to the sender.
“Parents were confused why packages were being sent back,” Lampedusa said. “They questioned the mailroom, which through some Q&A [the student] felt that we outed them.”
Mail Services must operate within federal regulations alongside school policies. Another implication of name-change includes confusion about what to do with legal documents, such as tickets, court summons and license renewals that use legal names different from school-authorized preferred names.
“Our goal is to have integrity as a mail distribution process. We use tracking numbers and other troubleshooting to help us identify packages as well,” Lampedusa said. “In our eyes it’s more important to ensure packages, like medication, get to the right person. If that means we need to ask for alternative names then we will, otherwise those packages will be returned-to-sender.”
A new committee, led by the Registrar’s Office and Office of Diversity and Inclusion, has been meeting since June 2021. Butz confirmed that they are discussing amendments to Policy 1.3 and are aware of the Mail Services issue.
“[Mail Services] was simply operating with the information it had been given to ensure the security of the federally regulated mail services UAlbany provides,” Butz said. “There was no intent to cause harm or embarrassment, and we apologize if that happened.”