Monday, November 28, 2016

Students relaxing and talking on phone
 Photo credit: Zhao Li

What does a name mean to you?  The question has become increasingly relevant for the University of Iowa in recent years as the student population has become more diverse.  

The rise in international student numbers and the growing attention being paid to gender identity have resulted in a collaborative effort by International Programs (IP), Information Technology Services (ITS), and the Office of the Registrar to develop a name pronunciation tool where students can record their name and select their preferred gender pronouns.

Associate Provost and Dean of International Programs Downing Thomas spoke about the new name pronunciation tool’s creation. “I think faculty and teaching assistants have struggled at times to understand how students would like to be addressed. A faculty member might see a name on the official record, but the student prefers to be called by an Anglicized name.  Now they can record how they prefer to be addressed in the classroom.”

“It’s not only international students,” said Thomas, “we’re all of different backgrounds. The goal is to provide a sense of inclusivity to students; to remove barriers.”inclusivity to students; to remove barriers.”

However, as it was being developed, an additional benefit was discovered.  Not only can instructors access the tool via MAUI, other students and the public can find out how their friends, coworkers, and classmates would like to be addressed through the university’s directory.

Names are important; they are central to our identities.  Jordan O’Konek from Information Technology Services (ITS) shared the excitement he felt when he first learned about the new pronunciation tool’s development. “Wow, we should have that, that’s awesome, and has potential to impact the students. Anytime we can have an impact, that’s the favorite part of my job.” 

pronunciation tool screenshot

The name pronunciation tool is currently live and can be accessed by students through MyUI link on the front page and in the “student information” section.  There, students and employees alike can record their names and select preferred pronouns.  Faculty can access these recordings in MAUI class lists, with additional access through the university directory, by clicking a play button next to the student’s name that will cue a recorded pronunciation.