Playing off a question from another thread -
One of the most commonly asked questions at all stages in our process is how students should identify themselves, racially and ethnically, for the purposes of our application.
Some students aren't sure what they "are", either because they haven't thought about it or because their family backgrounds are complex in a variety of ways. Others contest the constructions of race and ethnicity that we, by the limits of common convention and space on our application, must abide by.
Still others are looking to "game" the system, because they perceive that by "checking a box" they gain an advantage in the admissions process.
(A few perfunctory notes that I feel compelled to expound upon: that's not how it works at MIT, so no, they don't; that sort of application fraud is exactly that, fraud, and thus liable to incur serious, usually insurmountable, demerits when discovered; and, even worse than being fraud, it is incredibly, almost unspeakably lame, as is any attempt at lying on an application - worse than cheating yourself, you are treading down the garden path to a life of pitiable lameness; rant over, back to your regularly scheduled post)
In any case, the question arises: what do we mean when we ask you for your race and ethnicity?
In brief, we want you to answer honestly, that is to say how you truly identify racially/ethnically.
For a slightly longer explanation, here's a great description I cribbed from some emails addressing the issue sent out by David DuKor-Jackson, the Director of Minority Recruitment at MIT, modified slightly to make it anonymous/generic:
The ethnicity question is intended to determine how you identify yourself.
We do not set any particular criteria or requirements for being [a race or ethnicity].
You should check the race and ethnicity that best reflects who you are.
For the purposes of clarification, race and ethnicity have been separated on the application in accordance with federal reporting guidelines.
It is perfectly appropriate for you to select “Yes” to the [ethnic] item, choosing other and filling in [country of origin] as the place of origin as you indicated in your email below.
The next item on the application asks for a racial category from which you would select from among others: Caucasian, Black, Asian, Native American, etc.
This separation acknowledges that being [of an ethnicity] does preclude an individual from being white, black or anything else.
The other important point here is the notion of “qualifying” as a particular racial or ethnic category. While race and ethnicity are culturally definable, they are also an imprecise combination of self-identify and identity imposed by society. The best way to respond to these items on MIT’s application for admission, and anywhere else, for that matter, is to ask yourself “How do I define myself?” or perhaps “What do I consider myself to be?”
I wanted to share this with all of you because, while these topics are controversial, diversionary, and often as such left untouched by admissions offices, I'm trying to be as informative as I can be about our process, and this is a question we get.
This thread is not
a thread about affirmative action or anything other than our racial/ethnic identifying process, and if it becomes such I'll ask to have it locked.
It's more of a PSA - this is something we're asked, so here, here is the answer.