USC Information Technology Services recently updated MyUSC to allow students to add their preferred names, pronouns and gender identity to the central USC Student Information System. The new change makes the lives of international students immensely easier, since many of them use alternative names because their first names are difficult to pronounce or remember.
It can be tough for students with phonetically challenging names to tolerate mispronunciations. And when students go by alternative names, professors may have difficulty matching the new names to their legal names listed on the roster, paired with photos of the students. Allowing students to change their first name gives them more freedom and reflects the University’s empathy for students of different backgrounds and cultures.
“I think [the name change] is really convenient for me because when I go through the [Engemann Student] Health Center or when I was called [on] in class in the past, they always pronounced my Chinese name, but I think it’s hard to pronounce and I feel weird when they [mis]pronounce my name,” said Serena Wang, a freshman majoring in communication.
The opportunity to update English first names on the profile makes it easier for international students both in their personal and academic lives. International students no longer need to spell out their first name each time they visit the student health center, or go by an alternative name when picking up food or coffee.
In academia, professors often remember international students’ English names more immediately because they are already displayed officially in the system. Keeping a close and stable academic relationship with professors is important for international students’ academic success due to cultural and language barriers, which can cause them to require more personal attention from instructors.
Adding one’s preferred name on myUSC can offer international students a much-needed sense of coherence and consistency.
However, changing one’s first name can affect students’ identities, since first names are often a representation of international students’ nationalities. While this may be the case, the freedom to choose is often much more important to students.
Chinese international students often differentiate themselves from their Chinese American peers by using their Chinese first names, as it is an obvious indicator of where they are from. Adding an English name to their documentation and student accounts can serve to “disguise” their original nationalities. This can be both useful and inconvenient for students, depending on their priorities and preferences. However, this new system allows students to change their names in the case that their preferences change.
Allowing students to change their preferred first name is not only beneficial to international students but also to trans or non-binary individuals who want to be referred to by a gender neutral name. The myUSC program is taking strides in a more inclusive direction and hopefully other University systems will follow suit.