Department of the Interior surveys Lawrence students’ ethnicity, race

Martha S. Grave

Four members of the Lawrence
administration sent students an
e-mail Oct. 15 to inform them of new
questions regarding race and ethnicity
that they must answer. The questions,
posted on students’ Voyager
home pages, asks students to identify
themselves as Latina or Latino
if they are of that ethnicity and to
classify themselves as one or more
races from a list of five.
The e-mail, electronically signed
by Dave Burrows, provost and dean
of the faculty; Nancy Truesdell, vice
president for student affairs and
dean of students; Sandy Isselmann,
director of human resources; and Bill
Skinner, director of research administration,
encouraged students to
answer the questions the next time
they logged into Voyager.
The questions are in compliance
with the 1997 Standards
for Maintaining, Collecting and
Presenting Federal Data on Ethnicity
and Race as laid out by the U.S.
Department of Education’s Office of
Management and Budget. Lawrence
is required to have students answer
these questions in order to receive
federal funds used for financial aid
for students and for research grants
for faculty and staff.
According the Department of
the Interior’s Web site, groups can
report data on race and ethnicity by
using the single-question combined
format, or the two-question format.
The two-question format, which
Lawrence has chosen, is preferred
by the DOI, as it “provides flexibility
and ensures the quality of the data.”
Students are also allowed to
mark more than one category for
the race question, which includes American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or White. This is in compliance with the minimum standard, according to the DOI Web site.
The survey only collects domestic students’ information, as Lawrence is not requiring International students to answer the questions.
Chantal Norrgard, a Lawrence postdoctoral fellow of history and ethnic studies, suggests that the categories of race and ethnicity are not generally beneficial. “Race and ethnicity are both social constructs – the lines between them are fine, but both are used by the dominant society to constrict people and to contribute to inequality,” she said.
Norrgard also takes issue with the restrictiveness of the categories offered by the questions, saying “the categories limit ethnicity to Latina and Latino, and groups other ethnic groups under races.”
“There are so many facets of identity that aren’t being taken into account,” she continued. “I would like to see more options in terms of race and ethnicity, though I’m not sure those are appropriate categories to place people under. I would also like to see other aspects of identity be addressed, such as socio-economic status.”
Despite these reservations, Norrgard believes that the answers the questions will gather are important and beneficial. “Schools need to be held accountable for recognizing diversity. In terms of what benefits the information will be, it’s up to Lawrence,” she said.