Response to “University of Minnesota’s freshman class features upswell in diversity”

by Bryan Schmidt

While it is important that the Daily continue to track trends in student enrollment and the ethnic makeup of UMN’s student body, it is also crucial that reporters contextualize this information in order to allow readers to question narratives put out by institutional sources.

This is especially true as groups like Whose Diversity? have sought to problematize the administration’s narrative of fostering an increasingly inclusive campus.

To point, the article in question highlighted an “upswell” in diversity at UMN, but gave confusing figures to corroborate this claim. While the graphic in the article documented increases in the proportion of American Indian, Asian, Black, Hawaiian, Hispanic and international students, it did not include the actual number of students in each of those groups. This can make modest gains in the number of students of color appear to be much more substantial — for example, while the article pointed out a 22 percent increase in Hawaiian students, the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) lists only 149 Hawaiian students system-wide.

This is significant because by far the largest student increase was in the “Unknown” category, which saw a 75 percent uptick this year, 47 percent in 2015 and 138 percent in 2014. The article did not investigate these figures or speculate as to why the category’s gains far outpace that of every ethnic group.

Because of absent information on the actual number of students in this category (OIR lists about 4,000 students system-wide), it is impossible to accurately gauge whether the proportion of students of color has actually risen — it seems entirely possible, for instance, that white students are increasingly choosing not to identify their race (the percentage of white students ticked down by 1 percent according to the article).

To properly understand trends in student body makeup, we have to consider why we are seeing such large increases in students declining to list their ethnicity. I hope that future Daily reporting will dig into the figures put out by the administration in order to consider whether its narratives actually hold water and to probe for more substantial stories about the role of “diversity” on UMN’s campus.

Bryan Schmidt

Ph.D Candidate, Department of Theatre Arts and Dance

Editor’s Note: This letter has been edited for style conventions.