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How Should You Report Your Race/Ethnicity?

MITChrisMITChris Posts: 1,490College Rep Senior Member
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.
Post edited by MITChris on
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Replies to: How Should You Report Your Race/Ethnicity?

  • ripemangoripemango Posts: 956Registered User Member
    (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)
    What do you consider fraud? If Tiger Woods checked off only white on his application, would you consider that fraud?
  • sic_infitsic_infit Posts: 564Registered User Member
    My buddy's Taiwanese American and I'm Japanese American. Can we consider ourselves Asian over Pacific Islander?
  • resilient193resilient193 Posts: 281Registered User Junior Member
    @ ripemango. If Tiger grew up in a white society, with white parents, and people perceived him as white, then by all means he should consider him white. But he didn't. Growing up as half black, he definitely felt the racial discrimination that would not have felt if he were completely white.

    @sic_infit. taken straight form the Wikipedia article on Pacific Islanders:
    Inhabitants of the following islands and regions are not considered to be Pacific Islanders: Russia's Kuril Islands, Alaska's Aleutian Islands, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines as they are not located within the three regions of Oceania (Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia).

    @general. here's a related article from MIT admission blog. It talks about whether to indicate your ethnicity on the application. http://www.mitadmissions.org/topics/apply/affirmative_action/should_i_include_my_ethnicity.shtml
  • ripemangoripemango Posts: 956Registered User Member
    ^ Okay, how about if Tiger Woods checked off only black, instead of Asian, white, and black?

    And sic, you are technically Asian as determined by our cultural definitions, but which one you choose is up to you. There's no difference in admission anyway. Besides, Asian and Pacific Islander are close anyway, they are always put together in racial breakdown statistics, you really could do either one.
  • resilient193resilient193 Posts: 281Registered User Junior Member
    Well... I think he's most identifiable with black. Because he grew up in a black community.

    and Japanese are not considered Pacific Islanders (see above post). So it would NOT be a good idea to fill it as such.
  • ripemangoripemango Posts: 956Registered User Member
    Well... I think he's most identifiable with black. Because he grew up in a black community.
    Yeah, so I was wondering if that would be "fraud", because even though he is most identifiable as that he is also definetley Asian.
    and Japanese are not considered Pacific Islanders (see above post). So it would NOT be a good idea to fill it as such.
    If a Japanese person considers him/herself as a Pacific Islander, why wouldn't they fill it as such? Explain why Asians and Pacific Islanders are grouped together - because they think that these two are similar.

    See here: MIT Office of the Provost, Institutional Research
  • resilient193resilient193 Posts: 281Registered User Junior Member
    ^ Tiger CAN consider himself Asian or White, i'm not denying that. But because Tiger grew up in a predominantly black society and being view by most as black, he would identify himself as black (similar case with Obama). It WOULD be fraud if Tiger considers himself black but identify himself as White or Asian for the SOLE purpose of gaining advantage on admission process. However, if Tiger grew up with Asian parents in an asian community and being viewed as such thoroughout his life, then it would not be a fraud to consider himself as Asian.

    As for why not fill as Pacific Islander, it's because the term Pacific Islander carries a specific legal meaning - specifically people strictly from those areas. And Japanese/Taiwanese are legally considered Asian as oppose to Pacific Islander.
    As far as MIT app is concerned, Pacific Islanders are NOT grouped with Asians, but rather grouped as "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (Original Peoples)". On the other hand, under the "Asian" section, there specifically lists "Japan" as a choice. So choosing "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander" IS considered a fraud if the application is from Japan.

    And as far as sic_infit is concerned, I think he wants to consider himself as an Asian, as his original question was
    Can we consider ourselves Asian over Pacific Islander?
  • sic_infitsic_infit Posts: 564Registered User Member
    Yes, I will be putting down Asian anyway, whew.
    It WOULD be fraud if Tiger considers himself black but identify himself as White or Asian for the SOLE purpose of gaining advantage on admission process.
    Uhh how would colleges know that anyway?
  • banjoman12348banjoman12348 Posts: 204Registered User Junior Member
    When you state your race on an application you are just checking a box, there is no confirmation right? What is to stop people from checking the box of a URM to boost their chances?
  • PiperXPPiperXP Posts: 2,816Registered User Senior Member
    However, if Tiger grew up with Asian parents in an asian community and being viewed as such thoroughout his life, then it would not be a fraud to consider himself as Asian.

    I will note that people respond to situations differently. I feel much more Mexican at MIT than I do at home because I'm the only one doing "weird Mexican things", whereas at home I'm the one who doesn't like some things that a great portion of my family likes :D
  • Jimmy797Jimmy797 Posts: 868Registered User Member
    ^Well of course, Brazilian nuts are only Brazilian outside of Brazil.
    :D
  • MITChrisMITChris Posts: 1,490College Rep Senior Member
    @ripemango -

    That would be up to Tiger - that is, whether he considered himself African American. For a variety of complex, historical reasons, he almost certainly would; however, if his honest self-image was that of a white American, it would be appropriate for him to have checked that.

    When I say fraud, I mean students strategizing to say "hrm, I will check this off not because it represents me, but because I think it will give me a boost in the admissions process; even though I've always thought of myself as white, everyone thinks of me as white, but my grandmother was part Sioux, so I'll check that".

    Here's a good rule of thumb:

    If you have to post or email to ask about it - because you're not sure if you 'qualify' for something - you probably don't. Telling us your racial identity should be pretty easy, because it's something you live within every day. If you have to ponder the strategic implications of box checking, you're probably treading in dangerous waters.

    @sic_infit

    You'd be surprised at how much we know, or can figure out.
  • MITChrisMITChris Posts: 1,490College Rep Senior Member
    Short version:

    If you have to pause, for more than a second or two, to pick your race or ethnicity, you're doing it wrong. Telling us your racial identity should be as easy as filling out your birthdate and home state, because it's something you live within every day.
  • resilient193resilient193 Posts: 281Registered User Junior Member
    ^ but didn't you say earlier that
    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.
    So how can they not pause and think about it?
  • ripemangoripemango Posts: 956Registered User Member
    If you have to ponder the strategic implications of box checking
    Wait, are there strategic implications in box checking?
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