UP Visayas stands by graduation attire policy

Photo Courtesy of UP Visayas

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

The University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) will maintain its policy requiring transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) students to notify the university of their intention to wear gender-affirming attire during graduation ceremonies.

Additionally, these students must mention their “government names” before their “lived” names during the ceremonies.

On June 13, the UPV University Student Council (USC) wrote to the university’s Gender and Development Program, challenging the practice of using graduates’ birth-assigned names and requiring formal notice to wear gender-affirming attire, which aligns with their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE).

The USC requested exclusive use of lived names during graduation and the abolition of the requirement to notify the university about wearing gender-affirming clothing.

They explained that using TGNC graduates’ “government” or birth-assigned names can cause distress and invalidate their identities during a celebratory moment.

The USC’s letter added that only the submitted lived names of the students should be read aloud during graduation, without the mandatory announcement of their registered government names.

They argued that the justification of reading the registered government name because it appears on the diploma undermines the purpose of allowing students to use their lived names on stage.

Regarding the wearing of gender-affirming attire, the USC criticized the current policy requiring a letter of request as discriminatory and burdensome.

As to the wearing of gender-affirming attire, the student council called the current policy of requiring a letter to wear the attire as “both discriminatory and burdensome”.

“The justification that this prevents inappropriate [‘cross-dressing’] is not only outrageous but also blatantly discriminatory. Requiring students to navigate bureaucratic hurdles simply to wear clothing that represents their gender identity diminishes the essence of creating an institution where all students are supposed to feel safe and welcome,” they said.

The USC emphasized that these policies are not aligned with the university’s inclusive values.

“These policies are not aligned with the inclusive values that our university stands for. Graduation is a significant milestone in a student’s life, and it is imperative that all students feel safe, respected, and accepted during this ceremony, without the need for lengthy processes that rather [make] them feel discriminated against.”

The solemnity of the graduation rites should be preserved not through exclusionary practices, but through embracing diversity and inclusivity, the USC added.

UPV Chancellor Clement Camposano told Daily Guardian that the current policy aligns with the UP System’s graduation policies.

He emphasized that altering the policy would mean setting aside the System’s policy, which he cannot do legally.

“If we simply allow people to use their lived names without mentioning their registered names, and without requiring them to express in writing their wish, effectively I am setting aside the System’s policy, which I cannot do legally,” Camposano said in a phone interview.

He also reiterated the formality and solemnity of the event as conferment rites of the graduates’ academic degrees, regarding the recital of their birth names, and called that requiring letters of request were “simple” and “reasonable”.

“When you grant an academic degree, you grant it to a specific individual. That person is registered with the university. We have [their information] in our documents, our records, including their names and their sex assigned at birth. For the graduation itself to be valid, we need to refer to the registered name,” Camposano said.

“We have to be very clear about whom we are giving the degree to, and we have to use as our reference the registered names of the students. We cannot do away with that. In the first place, the approval of the list of graduating students contained [their] registered names. Their diplomas contain their registered names. We are accommodating their requests. In the spirit of liberality, we are allowing reading of their lived names,” he added.

Camposano also highlighted the university’s actions respecting gender equality, including celebrating Pride month, installing gender-neutral bathrooms, and asking teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns.

“We have done a lot, but of course there are people who feel we should do more. We plan to do more, but this is a process. We must take into account our existing policies. We just can’t abandon what has been approved by the Board of Regents that is part of the system,” he said.

UPV USC Chairperson Thea Kryshna Dayata explained their stance, emphasizing that graduates’ identities must be respected.

Dayata cited the Guidelines on Affirming TGNC Students’ Names, Pronouns, and Titles from UP Diliman, which describe “deadnaming” as acts of discrimination and violence against LGBTQI persons.

Deadnaming is the act of referring to a person’s assigned name at birth which they have stopped using and have requested others to stop using. This is an act usually done against TGNCs.

“The USC does not question the school’s responsibility of making sure that this significant event in UP is well-respected. In fact, we also advocate for the respect to be offered in our ceremonies, especially the graduation. But it is also our firm position that this respect does not have to cross with respecting the constituents as well,” Dayata said.

She also refuted Camposano’s claims, saying that other UP constituent universities do not enforce strict policies like holding onto a graduate’s official transcript of records if seen wearing “inappropriate” attire.

She noted that females at birth who preferred to wear pants, slacks, or jumpsuits faced this unique policy at UPV.

“The USC has constantly been in touch with student representatives of other CUs and they testify that these strict policies on graduation are not in place for them. They are also given instructions and general guidelines but these campuses do not go as far as holding the TOR,” Dayata said.

UPV USC councilor Marjhun Christiannee Galanido argued that allowing lived names and gender-affirming clothes during graduation enhances the event’s solemnity, showing respect and affirmation towards students’ identities.

“As we prepare for the graduation rites, it is crucial for the university to actively involve genuine LGBTQ inclusivity in decision-making processes, particularly regarding the use of lived names and the donning of gender non-conforming attire, which we are currently striving to champion,” she said.

Galanido called for focusing on making the ceremony meaningful rather than strictly adhering to policies misaligned with the university’s values. She also stressed the need for comprehensive policy reform to achieve a progressive university where all students feel genuinely safe and valued.

Graduating students and gender advocates began raising concerns in 2022, leading to ongoing dialogue with the administration. These groups have consistently advocated for the exclusive use of lived names during ceremonies.