April 18, 2011

Put the Identity Back in ID

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Before the name Emily reached its heyday in the mid-90s, my parents decided to choose the then-original name for their newborn baby. The name actually suits me well —“Emily” means hard working and “Isaacs” means laughter — and the two combined pretty much sum up my personality. A preliminary Facebook search will tell you that the name is relatively rare with only 76 others signed up around the world (compare this to the more than 500 Michael Rosenbergs and Chen Wangs). Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered there was another Emily Isaacs at Cornell.

When I entered as a freshman, the other Emily was a junior, so we spent half our college careers together. She was the first Emily Isaacs to attend Cornell in 136 years, so the odds were against us that the second would arrive just two years later. In the time we were both on the Hill, having a name twin didn’t ruin our lives. Sure, it was an ego deflator knowing I wasn’t the only recognizable person with my name on campus. Thankfully, different majors and middle names reduced the chance of even greater confusion. Still, our paths crossed enough that her presence made a mark on my college experience. Our few chance meetings confirmed she was quite nice (although sadly completely different in appearance), but it was our indirect association that played perhaps a greater role in our daily lives.

For one, the other Emily was president of the Cornell Concert Commission. While I love music, I don’t have a knack for following Indie bands and my knowledge of current music relies pretty heavily on Z95.5. Regardless, I’ve received hundreds of emails from club members and the greater Cornell community asking about upcoming meetings and concerts. (Let me tell you, replying to misdirected emails from one of the campus’ largest organizations is a lot of work!)

Similarly, emails intended for me would reach the other Emily, and numerous times friends and study groups have complained that I ignored their messages. Freshman year I was ecstatic when I wasn’t charged for my season hockey tickets only to find out two months later that her account was billed instead of mine even though my Student ID was entered into the computer with my raffle number. And this past summer, albeit two years after her graduation, my CALS paycheck was delivered to her mailbox. Honestly, given the hassle caused by the name flips over the years, I can’t say for certain if I would have returned the check had the tables been turned.

While I’m happy to share these amusing anecdotes arising from my name twin experience, they undoubtedly illuminate some of the greater problems within the Cornell administrative system. As first-year students we are given unique Student and Net IDs as identifying factors — to some extent, they are Cornell’s social security numbers. Given how often Cornell makes us use these codes on paperwork, why doesn’t the administration value our IDs in the same way? Is there really a point to making us use ID numbers if they’re disregarded anyway?

I see two ways that the Cornell administration can solve this problem — either eliminate the use of names completely on academic records or prompt a NetID check whenever any person’s name is put into a Cornell system. Sure, the first would make you feel even more anonymous than a ball in a McDonald’s playpit and the second will have everyone and their moms trying to guess your middle name, but at least the system will do what it was intended to: keep track of your personal college career as opposed to mishmashing it with someone else’s time on the hill.

In a mere seven weeks, my time in Ithaca will be over and I’ll be heading back to the Coast with the Most out west. Perhaps the rest of my college career won’t be completely changed by fixing the system, but at least the next name twin to come along might find it a little easier to create his or her own identity at Cornell. And given how long it takes for the Cornell administration to take action on these suggestions, as you leave college and start families, remember to choose unique names for your future legacies. Or maybe do the opposite and name one of your kids David Skorton — who knows, fooling the system might have some perks one day.

Emily Isaacs is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at eci4@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Emily Isaacs