Race Unknown

Race Unknown

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

Katti Gray

Bryan Lee, a senior at the University of California, Irvine, has noticed that some of his classmates adamantly declare their multiracial heritage while others choose not to identify themselves as being any particular ethnicity.

The half-Korean, half-White biomedical engineering major is co-president of the university’s Mixed Students Organization and says many of the group’s members “absolutely refuse to check any box when they’re filling out forms that ask you to describe your race.” Lee himself has occasionally checked the “other” box in the list of racial identifiers.

It’s an exercise in choice that is driving a gradual but steady uptick in the “race unknown” category of enrollment stats at some colleges and universities. The shift results, in part, from a continuing rise in the number of interracial couples and the children born to those unions. But observers say it also hints at efforts by some current college students to be less fixated on skin color.

“They are the change,” says Arlene Cash, vice president for enrollment management at Spelman College in Atlanta. “They have a very different way of looking at themselves and a much more global perspective of who they are. Many students of mixed races do not want to be pigeon-holed.”…

…Although public funding of college programs is not determined on the basis of race, the racial makeup of a student body is commonly used to track achievement gaps among races. Entities such as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board use the data to measure how well the student population at public universities mirrors the state’s overall racial diversity.

“The ‘race unknown’ factor puts us at a disadvantage in terms of determining what is going on academically with students of color, whom we are quite interested in tracking,” says Todd Schmitz, executive director of university institutional research and reporting for the seven-campus University of Indiana system…

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