Foghorn investigates the alarming citizenship-status question and the controversy behind the new ethnic and racial categories as defined by the federal government
During an October afternoon, international student Flor Calvo logged into her USF Connect account to check her student balance. Upon clicking the Student Tab, she was startled by a survey question that immediately popped up, asking “Are you a non-resident alien?”
Calvo, a junior who transferred from the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador to study economics, said she thought to herself, “Why do I have to answer this if I already answered this when I applied?” Calvo was in her Loyola Village apartment when she came across the puzzling survey, which only provided the option to submit “YES” or “NO.” Without an exit button on the screen, she felt obliged to provide an answer.
According to the question, a non-resident alien is “a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.”
“If I say no am I legal?” she asked. Confused, she contemplated between submitting yes or no, even though she moved to the United States in April 2009 after becoming a legal resident. Still having trouble, she turned to her roommate for help.
Calvo finally submitted “no.” She was instantly directed to the “What is your ethnicity?” survey, sent to all USF students and employees on Oct. 19. According to an email sent by Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J. the day before, the survey’s purpose was to update the ethnic and racial demographics of the USF community.
The email stated that “all organizations, including universities, are asked by the federal government, accrediting associations, college guides, newspapers, and our other organizations to describe the ethnic/racial backgrounds of our students and employees.”
Senior Kendra Brazile read the email when it was sent. “I know they emailed us to tell us that they will be asking us this information on USF Connect,” she said, “but I don’t recall reading about why. So I don’t think that they made that information readily available and I think that would’ve helped.”
The email did not indicate that the survey is a requirement for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a data collection program that is part of the National Center for Education Statistics. IPEDS mandates that all colleges, universities and technical and vocational institutions in the U.S. submit an annual report describing their institution’s enrollment, graduation rates, finances, tuition and fees, student financial aid, and ethnic/racial demographics.
Most importantly, however, if universities complete the surveys, they are granted authorization to receive federal financial aid. Failure to submit this information results in additional fines, as enforced by
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The complete report is to be submitted in the spring.
The main issue that boggled the minds of students and employees, however, was the initial question posed before the actual ethnic and racial survey—the question that asked survey takers to disclose their citizenship status, which the email never acknowledged.
“For some people this is very personal information,” Brazile said, “it can be a touchy subject.”
When sociology professor and director of African American Studies Stephanie Sears first glanced at the question, she said, “I was like Oh my God, did USF lose its mind?”
“It made me stop and think,” she said.
Why was USF asking participants to provide their citizenship status, ethnicity and race? Why did these implications matter? After questions like these provoked dialogue around campus, the Foghorn set out to explore these issues and the significance of ethnic and racial identity.
Will USF Report My Residential Status to the Federal Government?
Shortly after participating in USF’s teach-in on the ethnic studies ban in Arizona, Sears was shocked when she saw the question, “Are you a non-resident alien?” posted on USF Connect. She said, “Even though I know the term upon first glance it reads like, ‘Are you undocumented,’ and then I said ok that is not what it’s asking. This is USF.”
She said she had to walk herself through the process of acknowledging that “non-resident alien” is a tax term, and at USF it was used to question whether someone is an international student with a visa granting them temporary residency.
Latin American Studies Chair, Professor Susana Kaiser did not assume the question was regarding immigration status. She said, “They just want to know how many international students are at USF—you know who is not a citizen but has a visa to be here.”
Kaiser did however question why USF would need to inform the federal government about the number of international students with a visa if the government, who issues the visas, should already have that information. Professor Kaiser’s concerns also included why USF, a private university, had to report information to the federal government and whether the information would be guaranteed confidentiality.
In Privett’s email notifying the university about the survey, there was no information pertaining to why “Are you a non-resident alien?” was the first question posed in the survey.
The only information provided was in the survey itself, with the short definition underneath the question stating a non-resident alien is “a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.”
Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Gerardo Marin chuckled when he was reminded of the question out loud. He said, “Now that you mention it, it is kind of weird that is the first question. We should have added an explanation.”
Furthermore, he said, “we debated a lot about how long to make that email and since I never read long emails, I figured that most people would feel the same way.”
He said residential status was necessary as an initial inquiry because questions regarding ethnicity are an irrelevant concept for international students and faculty since they are not eligible for federal financial aid.
The government also does not require universities to specify what countries their international population is from; that information is asked for USF’s personal records.
Once an international student or faculty member states they are a non-resident alien, that information is automatically placed in a separate pile acknowledging the number of USF’s international students and faculty. The information is not discarded.
Marin acknowledged that the question of residential status might mislead some students and staff to think they are being questioned regarding their immigration status.
However, Marin said nowhere in USF’s forms is anyone asked to report that information. Undocumented students may apply and be accepted at USF, but must be aware they are not eligible to receive federal financial aid and therefore have to find their own means to finance their education.
In terms of confidentiality, Marin said ethnic and racial data is never reported in terms of an individual but rather as a group representing a fraction of the USF population.
Although, the information is not anonymous since it can always be traced back to the USF ID number, the number of people with access to that information is limited.
In fact, Marin said this is the first time USF administers an online ethnic and racial survey since that information was previously compiled from paper entry applications. Marin assures completing the survey online guarantees less eyes will have access to students, faculty and staff’s personal information.
Hispanic Isn’t a Race? A breakdown of why the federal government separates race and Hispanic origin:
Further into the actual survey, there were even more confusions surrounding the ethnic and racial categories as defined by the federal government.
According to the survey, the term “Hispanic or Latino” and its subsidiary Latin cultures are listed as an ethnicity, which are Central American, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American, Spaniard, andOther Spanish Culture or Origin. All participants were asked to choose whether they are of the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, or not.
Additionally, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White are all considered races, as suggested by the statement,
“Regardless of how you answered the ethnicity question above, please select one or more races to indicate what you consider yourself to be.”
Sophomore Adam Molina identified himself as Mexican on the survey. He said, “In my eyes, ethnicity and race are really the same thing so it really shouldn’t matter.” Molina believes that the Latin ethnicities should have been placed in the race section, alongside the other races, to avoid confusion as to why Hispanic and Latino is not considered a race, given that race and ethnicity have very similar meanings.
Professor of Race and Ethnic Politics, James Taylor, said “Many people in the United States use the identifiers ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ interchangeably. And it is at times confusing because ethnicity tends to be viewed ‘intra-racially,’ delineating differences among facially similar groups (e.g. Jews, Italians, Poles, Irish, etc.)”
“In the U.S., where race tends to be viewed ‘interracially’ in terms of ‘us versus them’ in counter-distinction to facially different groups (African Americans, Africans, Mexicans, Salvadorans, people of Asian descent)…Whites are only ‘white’ in the presence of non-whites,” and so on. “What these census measures tend to be about goes to the heart of what politics is about for some, which is ‘who gets what, when, and how.’”
Molina recalls filling out the 2010 Census form, which was worded differently than the USF ethnic and racial survey, but implied the same differences between race and ethnicity.
In the Census form, it stated to “Please answer BOTH Question 8 about Hispanic origin and Question 9 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”
“Because it asked to pick out your ethnicity,” Molina said, “and it [said] to pick your race but don’t pick the above… I was like ‘what am I supposed to pick then?’ I just filled out some random one.”
Confused, Molina identified himself as Mexican—and white.
“A lot of my Hispanic friends put that as well,” he said. “But that just kind of confused me, saying we’re not a race.”
When asked whether he truly associates his identity as white, he said “No, not at all.” For the USF survey, he didn’t repeat the same mistake; he left the race portion blank.
According to the 2010 Census Constituent Frequently Asked Questions, “The Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and these data are based on self-identification.” The categories of race are by no means to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically; the categories are reflective of the social definitions of identity. For example, under the African American option, an individual may identify themselves as African, African American, Black, Caribbean, or other Black or African American.
But for the Hispanic and Latino community, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has found that a Latino individual may be of any race, including Afro-Latino (of partial African ancestry) and Mestizo (European and Amerindian ancestry).
Hispanic and Latino is too broad to be considered a race on its own.
According to Hispanic Research Inc., a minority-owned business founded in 1979, “Hispanic is NOT a race. There are many races within the Latino community, including White, Black, Native Indian, and even Asian….In fact, Cubans exhibit a race discrimination behavior within their community that is similar to that of the general market. Other groups, like Puerto Ricans are very mixed. Argentineans are mostly white and some Latin American countries, including Mexico, have a strong Native Indian background.” Hispanic Research Inc. studies trends in the U.S. Hispanic market to eliminate discrimination in American corporations.
Therefore to make the distinction, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines ethnicity as pertaining to origin, and race as a means of self-identification.
OMB also redefined the standards in 1997 to be more reflective of individuals who are multi-ethnic, which accounts for the option, “select one or more races.” The option was first provided in the 2000 Census, and again in 2010.
Although USF is abiding by the IPEDS’ requirement to update the ethnic and racial makeup of the university, USF is also updating its own records to better reflect the university population in terms of multi-ethnic individuals.
In 2009, USF’s percentages of ethnic affiliations only included: Asian, African American, Latino, Native American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, International, Unspecified, and White. Respondents were only able to submit one option.
Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Gerardo Marin said, “Looking at some of the records…we have found a lot of blanks.”
“The other important component is that the old records…[of] information, people who were bi-ethnic or tri-ethnic could not say that,” he said. “That’s becoming more and more important because of the history that the proportion of people who are bi-ethnic in the nation is growing.”
“The more practical thing is that of course a year and a half from now we’re going to have to report a number of students who are bi-ethnic and we don’t have that information.”
Multi-Ethnic: Exploring how USF students identify themselves:
A summary of the 2009-2010 “By the Numbers” report summed up USF student ethnic backgrounds in a nutshell: 38.6 percent reported their ethnicity as white, 36.3 percent were (collectively) Asian, Latino, African American, Native American, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 9.7 percent were international students.
But for those who are multi-ethnic, these categories didn’t accurately reflect that population.
Senior Kacie Yarborough, for example, is Chinese, Korean, Native Hawaiian, and white; beforehand, the broad term “Asian” would not have done her identity justice. She said her father is Hawaiian,
Korean, and one-half white. “I think its English and Irish,” she said, “But I don’t know if that’s Western, Eastern or Central—I don’t know which that is!” Her mother, on the other hand, is also white. “She’s got some Welsh,” Yarborough said, but her mother is predominantly Chinese.
However, Yarborough admitted, “Even though I’m predominantly Chinese, like that’s kind of the one I am the most. I went to a Hawaiian school so I was always taught to identify as Hawaiian no matter what.”
Professor Kevin Chun, who specializes in the psychology of ethnic groups, said “individuals may self-identify in different ways because of individual differences in: (a) knowledge of these terms and the history and traditions of their respective ethnic and racial groups, (b) attitudes towards their ethnic or racial groups, (c) cultural and racial socialization experiences, and (d) the ethnic/racial composition of their daily living environments,” to name a few.
For people like Kacie, “ethnic identity refers to your sense of attachment and belonging to a group sharing common cultural characteristics,” which explains her attachment to her Hawaiian identity even though she says she is predominantly Chinese.
Senior Yohanna Roldán is Mexican-American, but would rather identify as American-Mexican, she said. As a Latin American studies student, Roldán said, “The way I think of American is not how people every day think of American.”
“I’m sure how I describe myself as Mexican-American is not the same as someone from the south, or the east coast, or somebody that has European roots. I describe myself as an American as a person coming from the Americas, being that its North America, South America, Central America, and everything that is in between the continent of America; that’s why I describe myself as being an American,” she said.
Roldán said she feels forced to identify as Mexican-American in surveys, since terms like American-Mexican are never options. “I’m not necessarily American first,” she said, “but I feel like I can connect more with America. My parents are Mexican but they also call themselves Mexican-Americans because they haven’t been living in Mexico for over thirty years now.”
Senior Kendra Brazile, on the other hand, is half African-American, one-fourth Puerto Rican and one-fourth Filipino; being multi-ethnic, she identified herself as Hispanic or Latino. Brazile said she mostly enjoys Puerto Rican food that her mother cooks, “because I don’t really like Filipino food.”
However, she said, “For me growing up in Hawaii, it’s a really mixed place so I used to get a lot of Asian culture in the food I eat.”
Coming to USF, it has allowed her to connect with her African American side. “That’s something that I’m still discovering more because I grew up with my mom, my mom raised me only.” With all her different cultures, she said, “it’s hard to box it in.”
Regardless, identifying herself as Black or African American is interchangeable.
“Like if people ask me, I say I’m part Black or I sometimes I say that I’m African American. So when it came to the survey I wasn’t sure what to put. I just put African American just because I felt it’s more specific whereas black can be, like Cuban black,” she said, “So I thought that was more descriptive of what I am.”
USF’s Dependence on Federal Aid: Why it’s important to report your ethnicity and
For now, USF plans to continue collecting the ethnic survey until the end of the year. Although the Foghorn was not given access to the number of people who have responded to the survey so far, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Gerardo Marin said there is a chance of students not responding accurately.
As noted previously, some people were confused either by the question of non-resident alien or by the ethnic category options. Reporting inaccurately or not answering the survey at all, however, could negatively impact the university.
If USF refuses to provide the federal agency with information, USF becomes ineligible for government aid.
Marin said, “It’s kind of a domino effect because if we don’t give the information to the government through IPEDS then we can’t get grants. That affects accreditation so we can’t give diplomas that are valid so it has a tremendous number of implications.”
The data is also reported to many other agencies such as U.S. News and World Report which assign ratings based on the diversity of different college campuses.
Other federal agencies such as the Department of Education also require universities to provide ethnic and gender breakdowns to verify if a university qualifies for a particular grant as do other grants that require a minimum percentage of minority students at a university to be considered for federal aid.
Websites and magazines such as Diversity and Hispanic Outlook and Higher Education also look at ethnic data to inform their readers of the highest concentration of their ethnic and racial group in particular programs at universities nationwide.
Providing inaccurate information then fails to provide an accurate representation of the diversity at USF and therefore may also limit the opportunities for government funding. Considering about seventy five percent of USF students receive federal financial aid, it is in their best interest to respond to the survey accurately and allow for USF faculty and administration to apply for grants that will reward USF for its diversity.
In fact, USF has received federal aid for some of its buildings.
Provost Marin said, “The school of nursing was built in part with federal money. The Center for the Pacific Rim also got some federal money. We just got some money for a nursing laboratory and part of the new part science building was also funded by the government, not the actual building but the equipment used to build it.”
Failing to respond to the survey negatively impacts USF since research has proven that most students and faculty that fail to report their ethnicity and race are accounted for as white. This is due to research investigations that show that students applying to college or graduate programs choose not to report their ethnicity out of fear they will not be admitted into a competitive program if they are not a minority student.
Sociology professor Stephanie Sears acknowledges some people might want to get rid of ethnic and racial surveys altogether. She said, “In the United States there has been debate if we should abolish the tracking of racial identity and a lot of progressive scholars say no simply because if we don’t know who identifies as what we can’t track discrimination continuous.”
Likewise, Business Studies Professor and a member of USF’s Accreditation Committee, Dr. Sonja Martin Poole said, “University administrators and researchers use this data to measure the different experiences, treatment, and outcomes of various races and this is essential to track inequalities, inform policy making and achieve social justice.”
Ted Lyndon of Academic Enrollment Services said that USF cannot require students to complete the ethnic survey and that the federal government does not allow them to include a question that allows for an option to avoid disclosing that information.
He said, “In the long term they’re talking about possibly further breaking it out, so if anybody selects multi-ethnic then they want you to provide information as to what are they combinations of multi-ethnic, fortunately they’re not asking for that now, it just makes it more difficult for us to try and run reports and break out all the different categories. So where the federal government is headed with it, your guess is as good as mine.”
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain
News Editor: Ericka Montes