By Kristine Jan Espinoza

Kristine Jan Espinoza | People | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

If you tuned into KNPR 88.9 FM on Wednesday, January 19th, at 9 am or 7 pm PST, you may have caught a snippet of an MSI Student Council member!

Race. Racial categories. Racialized categories. US Census. What are these terms and their continued complicated use today, especially when it comes to “counting” diversity? What is the history of the US Census at the use and counting of race and ethnicity?

Late Fall 2020, I interviewed with Sonja Cho Swanson, the talented Executive Producer of Exit Spring Mountain, a podcast hosted on Nevada Public Radio (KNPR; an NPR member station) centering issues about and around Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Southern Nevada. Parts of the interview became part of the latest episode (Episode 7) on Exit Spring Mountain entitled “Count Us In: The Promise & Perils of the US Census in NV.” (And yes, the title did borrow from the MSI Student Council member-led initiative I’ve been advocating for and working on since Fall 2020!)

In the episode, I had the opportunity to shed light on the implications of using racialized categories in higher education, giving a brief shoutout to the MSI Student Council initiative (“Count Us In: Ethnicity Data Disaggregation”) I have been spending time advocating for and reading more about. Along with other postsecondary institutions that participate in federal financial assistance programs as part of Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, UNLV is required to complete and report information to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). One aspect that postsecondary institutions must collect and report is race and ethnicity data. Through my MSI Student Council Initiative, I have been advocating for UNLV to add additional subgroup options beyond the minimal IPEDS categories to better make sense of the increasing racial and ethnic diversity on campus (of Students of Color), especially in light of UNLV’s dual MSI designations as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) and Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

While the NCES IPEDS do not use all the same options presented in the US Census, I offered how the issue remains: we must acknowledge the complicated continued use of racialized categories because on one hand, we must remember that these are not biological differences but rather socially constructed categories that we have given meaning to. At the same time, approaches of [race] neutrality (proceeding as if race does not matter) do a disservice, especially considering how our [higher education] institutions have been racialized.

I invite you to listen to the KNPR episode as our individual stories come together to shed light on the promise and perils of the US Census and counting. The episode features Tiffany Lin (visiting assistant professor with the UNLV Department of Art), Eric Jeng (Director of outreach with the Asian Community Development Council), Thalia Melville (UNLV undergraduate student), and myself (UNLV Ph.D. in Higher Education student studying racialized higher education laws and policies). I must give credit and highlight Sonja Cho Swanson, the KNPR Exit Spring Mountain Executive Producer, and the rest of her team (including UNLV Asian and Asian American Studies professor, Dr. Mark Padoongpatt) who really brings each Exit Spring Mountain episode altogether.

You can listen to the recorded episode online, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and your Android device: