April 13, 2010 | The Daily Collegian | Original Article

2010 Census' ethnicity options limited

Travis Salters was looking forward to filling out the census until he reached question nine.

Asked about his ethnicity, Salters, who is both black and white, was more than willing to give out his information. But no "mixed" option was given -- just a box to label himself as "White" and another box to label himself as "Black, African-American or Negro."

"The classes they leave on there were too general," Salters (sophomore-broadcast journalism and African and African-American studies) said. "I really didn't like how you can generalize people or classify them like that."

Salters is not the only student who felt confused when it came to filling out the parts of the census concerning race and ethnicity.

For Angelica Garcia, it was déjà vu. When she was admitted to Mount Nittany Medical Center six months ago to give birth to her son, she was told to label herself as "white" on medical forms since "Latino" was not an option.

Now, Garcia (senior-hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said she struggled to figure out what boxes to check for her baby, who is of mixed Mexican and black descent. She had her own question: Why isn't "mixed" an option?

Mexican-American Student Association President Berenice Bedolla said the issue of being mixed was also brought up at a recent Latino Caucus meeting. The discussion got so heated that a student said he might not fill the census out.

"It left a lot of students wondering what to check off," Bedolla (junior-hotel, restaurant and institutional management) said. "When it was addressed at the meeting, everyone got real fired up."

The use of the word "Negro" on the census is also raising eyebrows.

Kirin Kennedy, who serves as a Pennsylvania Apprentice to the League of Young Voters Education Fund, said the word is still in use because more than 65,000 people personally wrote in the word "Negro" as their race in the last census.

While the majority of people who wrote in Negro were older citizens, Kennedy (senior-geography) said she could see how some people would not identify with that word today.

"It's not there to make anyone feel disempowered," Kennedy said.

Census Bureau Media Specialist Pamela Golden said since the census first began in 1790, it "will continually change with the reflecting attitudes" and data the government collects from each census.

Several years of research go into forming each census, Golden said.

Salters thinks it's time to make a change.

"We're in a society where people want to move away from the boundaries of racism," Salters said. "I understand it's shorter to make it easier to fill out and maybe even to save money -- but it's still not a valid reason to confine people."