Decker: Categorically Racist
By Luke Decker, Contributing Columnist
Published on Monday, January 28, 2013
I was only made aware this week that a task force known as the Bias Incident Response Team existed at Dartmouth. According to its website, the response team is committed to advancing the “Principles of Community.” It serves as both an investigator and support network after reported incidents of bias. Now that this task force has come to my attention, I have to report an incident of bias that happens year after year, unreported. Since the response team’s report form asks me to describe the offender first, I will do that now: the Dartmouth admissions application.
As I pulled up the Common Application — the standardized admissions application used by Dartmouth and over 480 member colleges — on my computer screen to remind myself of the offender’s exact appearance, I saw five categories — “American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Black or African American,” “Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander” and, finally, “White (including Middle Eastern).” While I hate to sound cliche, the devil is in the details.
Because Middle Eastern applicants do not exactly fit the popularly perceived white identity — whether because of skin pigmentation, language or non-European names — the white racial category has to have a modifying parenthetical in the Common App to make it blatantly clear that Middle Eastern applicants fall under the this racial designation, because Middle Eastern applicants themselves do not believe it. This forced classification can be seen as an engine of racism. It has been often said that the unilateral identification of Middle Easterners as white in the 1977 Office of Management and Budget’s “Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity,” adopted by the Common App, was a mistake because it positioned applicants of Middle Eastern heritage in a catch-22. On the application, Middle Eastern applicants appear no different from the privileged and comparatively highly-educated “White” class. Yet, in a post-9/11 world, the millennial generation of Middle Easterners have lost countless opportunities because of the bias they experience from racial profiling and discrimination.
The Middle Eastern demographic is a minority that has been masked by the white majority. They have lost the privilege of being defined in non-racial terms like the rest of the white race, as apparent in the modifying parenthetical in the Dartmouth application, while at the same time are unable to define themselves in the same racial terms as “Asians,” “Blacks” and “Latinos.” They are still one of the most underrepresented minorities in American higher education, a fact that is readily apparent even at Dartmouth.
The categorical checkbox system on the Common App is an act of conduct that directly targets individuals and groups based on their ethnic or national origin.
Let me give you an anecdote to make my point a little clearer. If the Admissions Office received an application that had both the “Black or African American” and the “White (including Middle Eastern)” categories marked, what would they think? Well, how else would the Egyptian or Sudanese African American denote themselves on his or her application? Last time I checked, Egypt and Sudan are often included in the “Middle East.” According to the racial categories, all Middle Eastern applicants fall under the “White” checkbox. By combining both White and Middle Eastern, the Common App has fractured applicants’ identities and forced them to misrepresent themselves on the application as somebody they are not — just “Black or African American,” just “White (including Middle Eastern)” or of bi-racial inheritance by checking both.
Was it not the original purpose of the race section to make a more holistic judgment of the applicant, to account for discrepancies in opportunity and alleviate underrepresentation? I would argue that the educational inequalities toward Middle Eastern applicants are on par with those of other underrepresented minorities, only they have been hidden in the abyss of the “White” category.
The College’s “Principles of Community” emphasize the importance of a diverse campus makeup and its ability to provide opportunities and nurture learning and moral growth. Yet we have forgotten about our Middle Eastern community. If the Common App will never change its racial designations, then Dartmouth needs to add the same checkbox system on its additional supplement, this time with Middle Eastern as a sixth category. If the College wants to promote the importance of diversity, it needs to accommodate individuals of every diverse background.