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"You gotta tell us how white you are before you can register for classes, kiddo."
September 11, 2008 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Can a university require a current student to give racial data?

My friend just got an email from his university that he needs to inform them of his race, for his file. Kindly, they've put his account on hold, so that he can't register for next semester, until he complies.

This doesn't sound kosher to me. Anyone ever heard of a right to refuse to give your race, even if it will be used solely for administrative purposes?

If you can cite me a case, even better. I could not find anything on point with this particular issue.

P.S. Please inform me of your race when answering this question, or your account will be put on hold pending your compliance.
posted by letahl to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's a federal requirement:


SEC. 104. REPORTING REQUIREMENTS FOR INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

(a) AMENDMENT- Section 485 of the Act (20 U.S.C. 1092) (as amended by section 103) is further amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:

`(e) DISCLOSURES REQUIRED WITH RESPECT TO ATHLETICALLY RELATED STUDENT AID- (1) Each institution of higher education which participates in any program under this title and is attended by students receiving athletically related student aid shall annually submit a report to the Secretary which contains--

`(A) the number of students at the institution of higher education who received athletically related student aid broken down by race and sex in the following sports: basketball, football, baseball, cross country/track, and all other sports combined;

`(B) the number of students at the institution of higher education, broken down by race and sex;

`(C) the completion or graduation rate for students at the institution of higher education who received athletically related student aid broken down by race and sex in the following sports: basketball, football, baseball, cross country/track and all other sports combined;

`(D) the completion or graduation rate for students at the institution of higher education, broken down by race and sex;

`(E) the average completion or graduation rate for the 4 most recent completing or graduating classes of students at the institution of higher education who received athletically related student aid broken down by race and sex in the following categories: basketball, football, baseball, cross country/track, and all other sports combined; and

`(F) the average completion or graduation rate for the 4 most recent completing or graduating classes of students at the institution of higher education broken down by race and sex.
posted by rtha at 8:25 PM on September 11, 2008


Where is this university located? Country and state/province
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:25 PM on September 11, 2008


I know of that law, but that is a requirement for the University to report, not for the students to disclose. They are two different issues. The University, I would think, can report "not disclosed."

Alaska US
posted by letahl at 8:29 PM on September 11, 2008


Possibly related. Someone being asked to disclose their race as an employee of a job they've already been hired for.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:30 PM on September 11, 2008


State school or private?
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:52 PM on September 11, 2008


On the Association for Institutional Research website, within the FAQ:
  • Q: If a person answers yes to the ethnicity question, is s/he supposed to also answer the race question? A: Yes. Both questions are to be answered.
  • Q: Can I require students/employees to complete the race/ethnicity questions? A: No. You may only ask.
  • Q: How do I know if a student or employee refused to answer the questions or just overlooked them? A: You don't.
  • Q: What is the level of effort needed to collect the new information? A: Presenting the data collection form to students/employees is sufficient to ensure that individuals have had an opportunity to respond. Postsecondary institutions can report unknown when the respondent doesn’t reply—there is no need to use third-party observation to supply race/ethnicity..
and from the Definitions (pdf) page:
The designations are used to categorize
U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and other eligible non-citizens.
Individuals are asked to first designate ethnicity as:
• Hispanic or Latino or
• Not Hispanic or Latino
Second, individuals are asked to indicate one or more races that
apply among the following:
• American Indian or Alaska Native
• Asian
• Black or African American
• Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
• White
Perhaps your friend answered the ethnicity question but didn't follow up with the race answer. I'm not sure how the Q/A about "both are to be answered" factors into a voluntary statement, except perhaps the people collecting the data should toss out the ethnicity answer when the race question isn't answered--NOT jam up the admissions process.
posted by bonobo at 9:07 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this is in the US, no public institution, or institution that accepts public money, can require anyone to answer this question. "Not given" is a category on every federal and state document. The form should actually say that providing the information is voluntary.

The only exception I can think of is if your friend were receiving some kind of aid designated for Native Alaskans or Native Americans--if that were the case, he would be required to affirm his identity with that group.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:29 PM on September 11, 2008


If this is in the US, no public institution, or institution that accepts public money, can require anyone to answer this question. "Not given" is a category on every federal and state document. The form should actually say that providing the information is voluntary.

I don't think this is correct. Do you have a cite?
posted by toomuchpete at 9:52 PM on September 11, 2008


Of course I have a cite, toomuchpete.

This is the relevant passage:

Unlike elementary and secondary institutions, generally,
postsecondary institutions and Rehabilitation Services Administration
(RSA) grantees use self-identification only and do not use observer
identification. As discussed elsewhere in this notice, postsecondary
institutions and RSA grantees will also be permitted to continue to
include a ``race and ethnicity unknown'' category when reporting data
to the Department. This category is being continued in the Integrated
Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) because the National Center for Education Statistics' experience has shown that (1) a substantial number of college students have refused to identify a race and (2) there is often not a convenient mechanism for college administrators to use observer identification. RSA grantees have had similar experiences with RSA program beneficiaries.


However, by "institution" in my post I meant "institution of higher education" not "institution" in general, which might be the source of your confusion? And that is understandable, because I wasn't clear; I was thinking about IPEDS data, which it used to be my job to collate.

Elementary and secondary schools have to report a race/ethnicity identification for every student--if the student or parent doesn't self-identify, the school does a "observational identification" which basically means that whoever's filling out the form assigns them a race/ethnicity identifier based on what they look like and what their last name sounds like. Hooray for No Child Left Behind!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 PM on September 11, 2008


Sidhedevil, I can't seem to access ed.gov right now (no web server left behind), and the "relevant passage" does not seem to back up your contention that no public institution "can require anyone to answer this question." It says that institutions are permitted to include this category in their reports to the feds (or not), not that they are required to include it in forms for students.
posted by grouse at 10:18 PM on September 11, 2008


Well, all I can say is that I went through training on this, and it was beaten into our heads that you can't require racial or ethnic self-identification at the post-secondary level, and that passage was the kind of thing that was pointed to. The AIR page cited previously is more explicit, but of course not an official Department of Ed page.

If you go to the University of Alaska system online application, Personal Information Section, "Ethnic Group Status" is NOT a required field. I would suggest that the same applies for private post-secondary institutions in Alaska which receive federal funds.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:39 PM on September 11, 2008


Or "should apply." In any case, the OP's friend should talk with whoever does the IPEDS reporting at the institution (probably someone in the Registrar's office) and get to the bottom of the situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:41 PM on September 11, 2008


I went through training on this

I have no doubt that you did, but there is the possibility that your training either (a) referred to a requirement that is not imposed by federal law or regulation (for example, by local policy), or (b) was simply incorrect.
posted by grouse at 11:01 PM on September 11, 2008


Every form I've encountered asking for racial information has included options such as 'other', 'undisclosed' and so on.

If the 'undisclosed' option is absent, that would mean your friend could not find the option he self-identified as, in which case he would be 'other'.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:28 AM on September 12, 2008


I find the most straight forward way of dealing with such forms is 'Other: Human'. I've yet to find anyone who objected.
posted by Phalene at 7:27 AM on September 12, 2008


I have no doubt that you did, but there is the possibility that your training either (a) referred to a requirement that is not imposed by federal law or regulation (for example, by local policy), or (b) was simply incorrect.

Given that the AIR site says the same (and that's the leading professional organization in the field), and that the application for every state university I could find online indicates that this is voluntary, I would say that it is much more likely that the people at the OP's friend's institution are incorrect.

The training was done by the IPEDS staff, and they are much more likely to be aware of what federal reporting requirements are than some random drone from the registrar's office of some private institution in Alaska, don't you think?

It's possible that I'm wrong, and that sites like CollegeConfidential are wrong (less likely) and that AIR is wrong (very unlikely). But it's vanishingly unlikely that the people at IPEDS don't know what the law is.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:20 AM on September 12, 2008


As an aside, they are required to collect this information for affirmative action purposes, but I believe they are not allowed to use it in selection. So it's theoretically harmless to complete the form. I'm not sure how racially based financial aid is awarded, but I imagine that is another form.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2008


private school
posted by letahl at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2008


To be honest, I've seen far too many cases of people who ought to know claiming that the law says something, when it really doesn't, so I treat those claims with a grain of salt, unless they are accompanied by a citation. I've seen multiple cases of government officials who were misinformed about the law most pertinent to their job, who disseminated misinformation publicly.

If people are willing to believe that something is the law simply because their trainers said so, then only one person getting it wrong can then train a whole cascade of people who will then believe something that is false. And at that point the incorrect information will have been disseminated all over the place, including official web sites. But it will be useless in persuading someone to cease the allegedly prohibited activity, or a judge to make them.

There is a finite amount of law in existence. If there is actually a law prohibiting this practice, it should be easy to find. If you can't find it, then you will just have to do what Sidhedevil suggests—go to the registrar and ask them about it. If they say it's legal, then there's not really anything you can do about it without the actual law.
posted by grouse at 7:20 PM on September 12, 2008


An innocent explanation could be that he did not answer a question where one option is "not disclosed" and that they would be happy with that option. It sounds admittedly unlikely that this would justify putting his file on hold but you never know how bureaucracies work. What about calling them and asking?
posted by criticalbeaver at 3:18 AM on September 14, 2008


"This is the relevant passage:"

Your supposedly "relevant passage" doesn't support, in any way, shape, or form, your assertion. Here's what it DOES say:That doesn't say anything like "no [institution of higher education] can require anyone to answer this question."

My "confusion" comes from a more than passing knowledge of a significant number of civil rights statutes and having never come across any sort of restrictions like this. A third possibility to the ones grouse mentioned is that you simply misunderstood the training you received.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2008


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