Race classifications change for University

The University and other higher education institutions across the country have implemented new changes to their race classification systems, nearly 13 years after the federal government changed their criteria.

The new University classifications reflect those used during the 2000 census. Students and faculty will be permitted to select more than one category; previously they were only permitted to choose one.

In October 1997, the federal government announced that it was using a new racial categorization system for the 2000 census. Since the census was conducted, universities nationwide have debated and made preparations before implementing the same changes.

University Chancellor Robert Easter sent out a mass e-mail last week to students and faculty, asking them to update their racial information.

Carol Livingstone, associate provost and director of the Division of Management Information, said the U.S. Department of Education thought it was appropriate for student information to follow the same format found on the census.

“Almost every school in the country is making this change,” Livingstone said.

Anna Gonzalez, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, discussed the options that resulted from the change.

“We need to know our students,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t base budgets on how many people are of a particular group, but if we see the number of multiracial groups are growing, we can look at our offerings and see how we engage issues of diversity.”

Before the 2000 census, citizens had four options to choose from: white, black, Asian or Pacific Islander and American Indian or Alaska Native, according to the Census Bureau. Those categories were changed to: American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian; African American or black; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; and white according to the University’s updated form. Before selecting one or more of these categories, form takers are given the option of choosing Hispanic or Latino.

However, Adele Lozano, director of La Casa Cultural Latina, said these new labels might cause problems when gathering statistics from the data.

“Being forced to choose at all is problematic,” Lozano said. “How does the University look at someone who selects more than one box? It may create some challenges for us to really know what our numbers are.”

Livingstone said there are positive aspects of the change.

“To force a person to select just one race forces people into inappropriate categorizations,” she said. “This change will give us a much more nuanced view of who our students and faculty are.”

But Livingstone said the new classification will also come with a significant cost.

“It has been and will be huge amount of work to gather this data,” Livingstone said. “More people need to do more work to manage this data, which will cost the University money.”

Gonzalez said the University’s only option was to change.

“These are the classifications everyone else is using,” Gonzalez said. “We would be inconsistent with national and statewide date if we didn’t make the change.”