University professor explores role of multiracial data

The inclusion of multiracial respondents in census data is a main goal.

Danielle Nordine

Sociology professor Carolyn Liebler is developing a more accurate way to categorize people who claim more than one race.

Her approach could improve the way census data is interpreted and provide a more accurate understanding of multiracial population numbers.

The 2000 census was the first to allow respondents to choose multiple races to identify themselves. Liebler said much of the census data hasn’t been utilized because many statistical interpreters consider multiracial responses as one category.

“The new key difference in this data is that it allows respondents to mark one or more races,” Liebler said. “We don’t want to exclude multiple race responses in our analyses of data.”

Liebler said excluding the new multiracial data makes interpretation biased because those claiming a single race are often exposed to different experiences in life, which can determine things like their housing situation and annual income.

Liebler said it is important to pay attention to how people report their race, because claiming only one racial attribution instead of multiple might change statistical outcomes.

“If you exclude multiracial responses from, say, American Indians, you are losing 40 percent of your group,” she said.

Liebler said utilizing data from multiracial people is important to “understand how and why society works and to understand everyone’s unique life experiences.”

When it comes to the public, Liebler said informing people about multiracial diversity “helps the public recognize that race is more of a nuance and not biologically ingrained.”

Sophomore political science student Eric MacKay said he agrees race is a social construct.

“Racism is not the result of a reaction to race. It is based solely on physical characteristics, such as color,” Mackay said. “I think race just makes it easy to categorize people.”

Some University students said they are aware of racial categorization when they have to report their race.

Elizabeth Hansen, a sophomore English student, said she was adopted from South Korea and often doesn’t know how to categorize herself.

“I usually just put ‘other’ or ‘Asian,’ and if I have the choice, I will put multiple races,” Hansen said. “And I really don’t like general race categories like ‘black,’ ‘white’ or ‘other’ because they seem restricting to me,” she said.

Some students feel the white/Caucasian category is restricting as well.

Sophomore German and history student Peter Hanson said it bothers him that “white” is his only choice.

“I feel like I’m more than just Caucasian, but I don’t get to express that,” he said.

Liebler said she hopes her research will eventually create an atmosphere for acceptance of diversity.

“Soon we hope states will follow suit and allow respondents to choose more than one race, and hopefully in 50 years, my research will be out-of-date, and we’ll just understand that we live in a diverse world,” Liebler said.