Guest Post: An Open Letter to BYU — Please Stop Changing Married Alumnae Names
First off, I wanted to thank you for 4.5 of the best years of my life. I am a non-Mormon alumna who graduated in 2005, and I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoyed my time at BYU. You weren’t perfect, and I was far from, but I feel like we made the most of our experience together and had some pretty amazing times, overall.
I also wanted to thank you for my two beautiful children. I met their father at BYU, an LDS man whom I deeply loved, and I know that without our imperfect, interfaith union, my children would not exist. So I thank you for putting me on the path in life that brought my children into this world. The world is better off with them in it, and you were a part of that.
But I wanted to talk to you today about your alumni listing practices. To cut to the chase: I think you should stop making changes to our alumni directory information without our consent.
You see, that LDS man whom I deeply loved turned out to be a serial adulterer, and he effectively abandoned his family when I was pregnant with our second. I know that isn’t a reflection of his church’s values, but it happened. While infidelity is its own abuse, he was verbally and emotionally abusive in other ways on top of that. I divorced him in 2014, blocked him on all forms of social media (he’s only permitted to communicate with me via e-mail or phone), and haven’t lived with him since. Between then and now, I’ve lived in two different apartments that were leased in my name only.
You can imagine my surprise when I began receiving mail for him from BYU, sent to addresses where he had never lived. Bewildered, I informed the university that we were divorced, but the mail still periodically came. I would write on these letters, “Return to Sender – Has Never Lived Here,” but it did not stop. The letters were infrequent enough that I just gritted my teeth and did not investigate further.
It was only this past week that I solved the mystery. Someone at BYU assigned my address to his alumni directory entry without my consent:
Stop and consider that for a moment. This man abused me and walked out on his children, and I have made a Herculean effort to separate myself from him and build a life apart from him. Yet you put us back together on your records as if nothing happened.
This was not the only error I found in the directory. I remarried in June 2018 to a kind, gentle, evangelical Christian man whom I met a few years ago. I’m fortunate to have him as a husband, and my children are fortunate to have him as a stepped-up father.
Yet, once again, I was in for a shock when I looked myself up in the directory and discovered that my entry had been replaced by this person who does not exist:
Not only was my last name incorrect, but my middle name had reverted to a name that I haven’t had since 2003. I know that, when I last checked the directory in April or May, it correctly listed me as “Bridget J. Jeffries.” So I’m just bewildered.
I get that you guessed (incorrectly) that I took my new husband’s last name at marriage, but I don’t get why you switched “Jack” to “Leanne” for my middle name. (Because “Leanne” is prettier and more feminine than “Jack”?) Regardless, I can assure you that my legal name is “Bridget Jack Jeffries,” and barring some unforeseen foray into a witness protection program, that will remain my legal name until the day I die.
Listen, Alma Mater, I’m not rebuking you. I love you, even when I think you’re regressive about gender and marriage. Just as I hope that you love me even when you think I’m being a feminist shill. And I know that these changes were made with good intentions. I wish we lived in a world where first marriages always work out, where there is no abuse or abandonment, where no one ever has to change a name due to brokenness or sin.
I also wish we lived in a world where men followed the biblical mandate to leave their fathers and mothers and cleave unto their wives (Gen. 2:24), which they could symbolize by taking their wives’ surnames (not the other way around).
But this is not that world. Hence you probably shouldn’t be making changes to our alumni directory information when we haven’t requested those changes ourselves.
Let me be clear that I consider this a minor grumble, not some grievous miscarriage of social justice.
Then again, isn’t that all the more reason that this should be an easy change to make?
Grace & Peace,
Related: “No, I Did Not Keep My ‘Maiden’ Name” by Emily Belanger
Bridget Jack Jeffries is the co-founder of Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable and the author of As God Is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation (master’s thesis) as well as So I Married a Mormon: An Interfaith Memoir (forthcoming). She blogs on the Bible, church, and spirituality at Weighted Glory.”