For a substantial portion of the student body, approaching the race and ethnicity section on University of Michigan documents poses an issue: Their ethnic identity isn’t there. Such is the reality of many students who identify as Middle Eastern or North African. The #WeExist campaign, launched this past week, calls for the creation of a Middle Eastern/North African category on University documents to give more representation for people who identify with those ethnic categories. The petition, penned by organizers of the campaign, has 704 signatures and counting. With overwhelming support from student organizations and all three University campuses, The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board calls on the University’s Board of Regents to include a ME/NA category on University documents.
Including the ME/NA identity category on University documents would be a very easy, yet important, way for the University to show that it is truly committed to inclusivity of all ethnicities on all three of its campuses. According to the Student Campus Climate Survey on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, ME/NA students currently make up about 2 percent of the student body at University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, while email correspondence with Sally Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at U-M Dearborn, revealed these students make up a significantly greater proportion at the University’s Dearborn campus. Michigan also has the second highest Arab-American population in the country. Central Student Government and LSA Student Government unanimously passed resolutions in support of this addition. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau is proposing the ME/NA category be added for the 2020 census. The University administration should therefore mirror student and national commitment to inclusivity and follow suit.
Collecting this data will also allow students who identify as ME/NA to be better represented on campus. Currently, the students who would identify as part of the ME/NA category have to grapple with being lumped into a “white” or “other” box, effectively skewing the demographic statistics of the University. A more accurate depiction of the number of ME/NA students at the University could bring more lobbying power for ME/NA student organizations.
We understand there are concerns among some that adding the ME/NA category could increase targeting from the government, especially given the nation’s current climate of increasing Islamophobia. However, targeting could potentially occur for a number of ethnicity or racial groups. Moreover, checking a particular box is a reflection of an individual’s self-identification as a member of a particular ethnic group, so if someone is not comfortable identifying as part of the ME/NA group, they do not have to report this information.
These concerns also should not pose an issue to students’ safety on campus. Historically, the University has vowed to protect the personal information of its students that could potentially harm them. After the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals repeal, for example, University President Mark Schlissel was quick to state that the University would not release information pertaining to students' citizenship status. Finally, and arguably most importantly, we must consider that those who are calling for the addition of this category are those on our campus who would be most affected by this change. Therefore, we should listen to the will of this community.
When this campaign is presented at the Board of Regents meeting on Dec. 7, we urge the regents to vote in favor of adding the ME/NA category to University documents. If the University is serious about increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, and it is truly willing to listen to the community, the University must add the ME/NA identity to its documents.
Do you love to debate today’s important issues? Do you want your voice heard? We hold twice-weekly Editorial Board meetings at our newsroom at 420 Maynard St. in Ann Arbor, where we discuss local, state and national issues relevant to campus. We meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Learn more about how to join Edit Board here.