The Know Me project was created by Academic Affairs to help professors teaching online classes to identify and connect with students. The Know Me project refers to default Canvas profile pictures and students' challenges with changing them. Many students, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, have been negatively impacted by the sudden change of their profile photos on their Canvas page.

During the pandemic, it was difficult for professors in online classes to connect with students, which led to Academic Affairs creating a solution where the students’ ID photos would be used to help professors identify who each student was. Dick Beekman, student body president, is familiar with the project and agreed to it as long as students could change their profile photos if they wanted to.

“Very quickly, it became evident that while students did have the ability to change their Canvas picture, that it was also just as quickly getting changed back to the Student ID picture,” Beekman said.

As student body president, Beekman meets with a variety of people, including, but not limited to: students, staff, administrators, alumni and donors to advance the interests of the student body. “I am the primary student advocate on behalf of the student body, and I represent the student body in a variety of different roles, serving on a variety of different committees, serving on the Board of Trustees,” Beekman said.

The rosters in Canvas are set to refresh daily until Feb. 1, resulting in the ID photos reverting every time students try to change them in Canvas. “At some point, it stops being every single day and goes to a weekly schedule, and when those refreshes were happening, those windows were changing back,” Beekman said. Beekman suggested that the rosters refresh on a semester basis rather than a weekly basis and is still in conversation with Academic Affairs on this matter.

According to Dr. Erica Lennon, associate director for outreach and community engagement at the Center for Counseling at Psychological Services (CAPS), the project had good intentions behind it. “I think the hope was to actually help folks be able to state their name, pronouns, gender identity in a way that aligns with who they are,” Lennon said. “Versus having a system that states a sex that was assigned at birth, that is not the person’s gender identity, that dead names them, that is not the name they go by, the name they have chosen.”

Lennon has been at UNC Charlotte for 11 and a half years. In addition to being the associate director for outreach and community engagement, she also is an adjunct instructor for women and gender studies and teaches queer & gender history. Lennon learned about the Canvas profile picture situation from a student who came to her because the profile picture negatively impacted their mental health.

“I think that the solution has to be understanding that there are components of the project that have been really helpful, but that there is one piece of this project, that from everything that we are hearing, is having an impact on the mental health of our trans and non-binary and gender nonconforming or expansive students,” Lennon said. While the project allows students to change their first name, select their pronouns and identify their gender identity from a list, they are faced with old photos that may not represent them currently.

Madison Wilson, a fourth-year at the university and the founder and president of Prism, has tried to change her Canvas profile photo, but it reverted to her ID photo from her first year. She believes that completely removing the automatic upload would be the best solution to this issue.

Wilson has been a student at UNC Charlotte since fall 2019 and founded Prism in October 2021 to connect with other LGBTQ+ students at the university. The club talks about what is going on in the world regarding the LBGTQ+ community as well as what is going on in their lives.

Recently, Wilson sent out a form for the group members to fill out regarding the Canvas profile photo change. “Our Canvas picture should be a representation of ourselves and how we express our identity,” a response to the form said. “Taking away that option can be invalidating.” Wilson believes that using a picture from when students started at the university is invalidating because it does not allow them to express the truest version of themselves.

Beekman sympathizes with students and understands their frustrations regarding this matter. If students have any ID-quality photos, he encourages them to change them. He is currently in conversation with Academic Affairs and IT to find a permanent, more inclusive solution that can address this concern.

“I think that it’s important for people to realize that the conversations are ongoing, and if people are eager to make their voices heard, I would encourage that they keep doing that because that is very helpful in the advocacy effort,” Beekman said.

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