New definitions in place for race, ethnicity

Caitlin Carter

As of Monday, the WKU community has new ways to define itself in terms of race and ethnicity.

When logging onto TopNet, students, faculty and staff are be prompted to answer two questions related to race and ethnicity, Registrar Freida Eggleton said.

First, WKU community members must choose their ethnicity as either Hispanic/Latino or Not Hispanic/Latino, Eggleton said. Then, they will indicate which race or races they identify with.

Before, students could only indicate their race optionally at admission, she said. And at that time, they could only choose one race.

More than 10 years ago, the U.S. government determined that all federal agencies must amend the way race is reported, said Heidi Hiemstra, associate vice president for data and information for the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Hiemstra said the idea behind the change is to give a multiracial individual the opportunity to choose more than one race if they wish.

“There had been this movement regarding the way people think about themselves and how they think about their race,” she said.

Along with the option to choose multiple races, students, faculty and staff will now choose their ethnicity, Hiemstra said.

“Race and ethnicity are very strange and flexible things,” Hiemstra said.

Though it took a long time for the change to be implemented, all federal agencies, including education, have begun distributing new race and ethnicity surveys, Hiemstra said.

Eggleton said the new ethnicity category was created because of the discrepancy between it and race.

“Ethnicity is based more upon the culture in which a person identifies, whereas race is based more on the physical attributes of individuals,” she said.

Hiemstra said it’s best not to speculate whether statewide numbers of people identifying with a particular race will change.

“It’s really just a time-will-tell sort of thing,” she said.

“Kentucky is such a majority white state – not as much at Northern Kentucky, – that I don’t think the impact will be as big as it could be in a place that has a lot more diversity.”

Though changes may not be drastic, CPE Communications Director Sue Patrick said it will be interesting to see how the numbers compare to the last survey because race and ethnicity are self-reported.

The only major concern Kentucky colleges and universities have is regarding how the new information will be reported to the public, Patrick said.