The start of school brings an annoyance that students with unconventional names or gender-nonconforming appearances understand all too well: roll call. They’ve likely spent a lifetime of first days correcting teachers and fellow students on the proper pronunciation or gender pronoun.
Stanford University will deploy software this fall that aims to prevent officials from butchering fundamental aspects of their students’ identities. NameCoach allows students to record their name and gender pronoun for professors and other campus administrators to review before the student even sets foot on campus.
“We want to encourage a culture of respect on campus, and one of the best ways to convey respect to someone is to get their name right — and to get their pronouns right, too,” University Registrar Tom Black said in a letter to students.
So far, 300 incoming students have used the NameCoach service. Stanford welcomed roughly 1,700 freshmen last school year.
The software touches on a movement at many college campuses to make the university experience more inclusive of students who are gender nonconforming or identify as transgender. Earlier this year, the organizations behind the widely used Common Application and Universal College Application added questions that allow students to express their gender identity and, separately, designate their sex assigned at birth.
“The Common Application is not merely a collection of data points. It is, rather, a vehicle through which all students regardless of their background can express who they are. We want to make sure that all students have the ability to express themselves in the ways in which they feel most comfortable,” Gil Villanueva, chair of the board of directors of the Common Application, wrote in an April blog post.
NameCoach, which was invented by Stanford graduate students, may be a distinctive fit for the school’s culture. According to the university, professors traditionally memorize students’ names before the start of the fall semester and greet them personally when they first arrive at their dorms. The school plans to integrate the software into its electronic class rosters, learning management system, and select housing websites.
It’s hard to imagine a larger university with thousands more students deploying the software effectively, or professors with a lecture hall of 300 students taking the time to sift through all those recordings. But the eponymous company behind NameCoach markets the software primarily for life milestones, such as graduations, where a sloppy or incorrect pronunciation can tarnish the moment.
Stanford tried the service at two graduation ceremonies and more than 2,000 students took part. Testimonials on the company’s website indicate the software has also been used by several other high schools and universities, including Towson University, the University of Memphis and Wesleyan University.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.