Minority_9-/23_se, More students do not want to provide ethnic identities

By Gus Bode

Minority enrollment remains at 17 percent

Minority enrollment has maintained a steady overall percentage of the student population at about 17 percent for the last three years.

However, during the past five years, the University has seen an increase in the number of students who have not specified an ethnic background. This increase can vary the exact number of students SIUC must have to calculate minority enrollment.

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When filling out their admission applications, students can mark one of seven different categories in identifying their ethnicity:black/non-Hispanic, white/non-Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan, Asian/pacific islander, Hispanic, foreign and unknown.

According to Seymour Bryson, vice chancellor for Diversity, before 1998 the University noted that less than 3 percent of the student population had chosen not to identify their ethnic background. But in 1999, the unknown category increased to 6.7 percent. In 2000, 9.2 percent of the student population chose unknown, and in 2001 unknown accounted for 8.5 percent.

With the 989 students not identifying their ethnicity, the percent has slightly decreased, but compared to the number of students who declared a nationality in the past, the unknown figures remain high.

Larry Dietz, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, said it is difficult to determine the many reasons students refused to identify their background. However, he noted a few that could fill the void of reasons for the high percentages in the unknown category.

One reason for a student to mark unknown is that the student is representative of more than one ethnic group, which is not unusual for Americans to report, said Dietz.

“They don’t fit neatly into any category,” Dietz said. “As a student, if my father was African-American and my mother was Caucasian, I don’t know what I would check under these categories.

“I am forced to make a choice, and a lot of students do not want to make that choice.”

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The University uses the same categories recommended by the federal government, according to Anne De Luca, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment management and director of Admissions.

“It easier when we report back the information; because the categories match in the same way they often ask questions,” De Luca said.

She said they could be changed if the chancellor or SIU president decided they wanted to collect information differently, which would require some internal changes to the Student Information System on how the University stores the information.

De Luca, Dietz and Bryson all have noted discussions have been going on at the federal level that may expand the categories in the next few years.

“If that ultimately happens, it would be likely that a recommendation would follow that SIUC expand our ethnicity categories as well,” De Luca said.

Dietz said instead of having African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, unknown and foreign categories, it would expand that from about seven to 19 different classifications.

“But it hasn’t been passed, as far as I know, and made it to the Department of Education of Policy,” Dietz said.

Bryson and Dietz also noted that in about 1997, the University changed the location on the application for a student to mark their ethnic background. The section was dropped from the middle of the application to below the signature line.

“It is subtle thing of where you ask the question to decide what kind of response you are going to get,” Dietz said.

Ana Velitchkova, a graduate student in foreign language and studies form Bulgaria, said she does not feel the categories are important and prefers them not included in the application.

“I don’t like people have to tell what country or ethnicity they are,” Velitchkova said. “I feel everybody should be equal.”

Bryson said the minority enrollment is also compared to the state census ethnic averages, a level universities like SIUC should be close or equal to in percentages.

By looking at those figures, he said one can conclude overall white enrollment looks on par with state average. African-American enrollment is 3 percent less than the state average, Hispanic state population is 12.3 percent while the University has around 3 percent and others are slightly below average.

Bryson said the University continues to ask incoming freshmen and provides positive recruitment for all students, particularly of minority groups. But in regard to knowing those ethnic groups that may be represented in the unknown category, he said the students have a right to not proclaim their identity.

“Everybody is consistent, if you are looking statistical,” Bryson said. “But who you are and what you are, that is a claim on how society views people.

“Some people feel that is important and some don’t.”

Reporter Samantha Edmondson can be reached at [email protected]

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