SF State's ethnicity survey too limiting for our campus

In March of this year the University became an Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander Serving Institution, building on its status as one of the nation’s most diverse campuses. Since August, the University has been calling for students to declare their ethnicities in time for designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The designation would make SF State eligible for additional federal funds, which are sorely needed as state funds continue to shrink.

While the possibility of extra money is encouraging in these cash-strapped times, soliciting such controversial information for funding instead of letting students give it of their own discretion is unsettling. The University hopes to raise the total declared percentage of Latino students to 25 percent to qualify for the grants. As of Fall 2011, according to the SF State Data Book, the combined Latino undergraduate population is at 23.9 percent, roughly 600 students short of the goal.

With the goal seemingly so close at hand, it isn’t surprising that the University has begun soliciting ethnicity information from students. The ethnicity form used online is an improvement over traditional questionaires, but it still requires you to select only one ethnicity as per federal guidelines. Although students have the option of specifying the type of Asian or American Indian they are, the ultimate classification that matters only offers eight options: American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African-American, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, White, two or more ethnicities, and decline to state.

And yet, students choose.

A subject as delicate and nuanced as ethnic identity should not be boiled down to such cut and dry categories. Some people might not know their exact ethnic makeup. Others come from mixed-race households where identity isn’t as simple as checking one box or another.

SF State should be admired for exploring all avenues of procuring additional funds, but asking people to define themselves so narrowly doesn’t get us any closer to a campus where all ethnicities are recognized and accepted.

Asking people to label themselves — especially when those labels differentiate us from one another so distinctly — can only serve to drive wedges between us, but failing to do so could potentially deprive SF State of much-needed funds.

When faced with choices like these, each of us must weigh our priorities and just choose between the lesser of two evils.