A Look at OSU’s New Racial Categories

Scott Ijaz, UWeekly (Columbus), February 2, 2011

Last week the Ohio State University Registrar issued new ethnic and racial categories for students to more accurately identify themselves. The U.S. Department of Education deemed the old categories no longer reflected the diversity of the nation’s current populous.

But for some students, like Jamal Latiff, a third year molecular genetics student, the new categories don’t accurately reflect their racial identity. Latiff is Arabian–half Lebanese and half Palestinian.

The new categories are as follows:

* American Indian or Alaska Native

* Asian

* Black or African American

* Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

* White

According to Ohio State’s (and other’s) revised taxonomy, Arabians fall under the category White. The U.S. Department of Education defines “White” as, “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.”

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Whatever category Latiff decides, the choice will stay with him his entire college career. University admissions seek students who provide cultural, racial or geographic diversity.

According to the Ohio State Diversity Action Plan, the percent of Asian American students attending Ohio State rose by 57.9 percent in a span of six years. Similarly, the university’s Hispanic American population shot up a whopping 70.6 percent.

A number of minority scholarships are specifically designed to increase the amount of students who belong to a certain race. The National Hispanic Recognition Program, for example, only awards Hispanics or Latinos. There are 435 similar scholarships.

Because the choice so heavily influences finances and enrollment, Latiff is hesitant to select “White.”

For one, the term “White” is delusive because Latiff’s skin color is not of white pigment. On the contrary, many Middle Easterners have brown skin.

“They tend to stereotype white as being Caucasian,” he said. “Asian as being from the Far East, too.”

The U.S. Department of Education defines Asian as, “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent.”

This excludes countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

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The document does, however, explicate why the Middle East doesn’t have its own race category.

“Several comments . . . viewed as necessary to monitor discrimination against this population,” it reads. “At the same time, it imposes the least possible data collection and reporting burden on the education community.”

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Part of the confusion arises from the nomenclature and semantics of the term race. The Revisions of 1997 emphasizes that the Department of Education’s notion of race is “not anthropologically or scientifically based.” Instead, the department considered input from representatives of federal agencies, social science research institutions, interest groups, the private industry and letters when deciphering the meaning of race.

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The revisions build off of and are similar to the 2010 Census taxonomy. A central difference is the Census allows you to fill in your own ethnic group other than Hispanic/Latino.

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A less vocalized circle of critics advocates that any form of racial discrimination–government sponsored or not–impedes true equality.

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