An Open Letter to the ACPA Community

Dear ACPA Community:

The Multiracial Network (MRN), one of five networks in the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs, strives to help create and foster inclusive spaces within ACPA and postsecondary education with and for students, staff, and professionals who identify as multiracial, multiethnic, transracial adoptees, and having fluid racial identities. This past convention in Las Vegas was paramount for our network, as we celebrated 10 years since our founding and developed the pathway for our next 10 years of building our membership and advocating with and for ACPA members and the students we serve who identify as multiracial.

It recently came to our attention that the 2013 Post-Convention Survey included a question that we, the MRN Leadership, feel the need to address as it directly applies to the history of marginality and mattering of ACPA members who identify as multiracial. While we see the importance of collecting demographic information of our members, we want to recognize and acknowledge the impact of survey question wording on participants. Question 74 was posed to collect “race/ethnicity” demographic information from convention participants, which forced participants to select one racial/ethnic category, “other,” or “prefer not to answer.”

Screen shot of Race/Ethnicity question
“Race/Ethnicity” question from ACPA 2013 Post-Convention Survey

A participant who identifies as two or more races must choose one racial identity, or choose to be “othered” in this data collection process. Not only does this question reinforce monoracialized attitudes toward race, but also serves to “other” and “alienate” a burgeoning population of our professional organization.

We also wish to acknowledge that since the original version of the survey, Question 74 has been altered to be more inclusive of multiracial-identifying people. While we as a network appreciate the swift action from ACPA, we feel this response is necessary both as a means of highlighting the importance of this question’s format and to hopefully take advantage of an educational moment for ACPA members who may encounter demographic questions like this one on their campuses.

Impact on Individuals

We feel it is important to note that this particular survey question is not an isolated incident. A common thread in the literature on multiraciality is how individuals are often forced to choose a monoracial identity or “check one only” (e.g., Herman, 2004; Johnston & Nadal, 2010; Kellogg & Liddell, 2012; Renn 2004). Much research has demonstrated how this experience of being forced to “check one only” can have negative impact on multiracial individuals. For instance, Townsend et al. (2009) showed how forced monoracial identification can result in lowered levels of motivation and self-esteem among multiracial individuals. Sanchez (2010) found that multiracial respondents who were forced to identify with only one race reported more depressive symptoms, likely due to the perceptions that their multiracial identity is not valued or accepted by society or the organization collecting the information. Moreover, being able to identify with multiple groups or as multiracial has been associated with positive psychological outcomes for multiracial individuals (Binning et al., 2009). This research demonstrates the significance of the ways we ask racial demographic questions, since they can send messages to individuals within our association about how their identity is valued or not, and potentially result in negative psychological outcomes.

A personal example may help illustrate this question’s impact.  Below is how Rachel Luna, one of our MRN Leadership Team members, felt after responding to the survey:

When I took the survey, I cringed when I got to the “race” question.  I felt hurt, and even betrayed, by an organization for which I have much respect and espouses inclusion and social justice values.  Particularly in the wake of MRN’s 10th anniversary where we had such success with celebrating progress and raising awareness, this lack of inclusion felt like we’d taken two steps forward but one step back.  A friend of mine who also identifies as multiracial was similarly impacted by this, and we chatted briefly on Twitter about it that day (see conversation below)

Influences on Organizational Dynamics

MRN has been dedicated to enhancing the goals of ACPA, as well as increasing education around Multiracial and multicultural affairs issues in postsecondary education. However, we must recognize the ways that the phrasing of Question 74 serves to undermine our network’s existence within our organization and continues to [re]marginalize practitioners and students who feel they must choose between their multiple racial and ethnic identities. Clearly, Question 74’s formatting is inconsistent with not only the goals and vision of MRN, but also the goals and vision of ACPA.  As stated in About ACPA, the mission of ACPA is founding on several values including:

diversity, multicultural competence and human dignity; inclusiveness in and access to association-wide involvement and decision making; [and] outreach and advocacy on issues of concern to students, student affairs professionals and the higher education community, including affirmative action and other policy issues.

With these values at the core of our purpose, vision, and mission, we call to our professional organization and colleagues to action to find ways to increase inclusion by changing the demographic information collection questions and phrasing. We also want to recognize the ways that this question format may have a negative impact on our colleagues in communities with fluid sexual and gender identities, calling toward the need to reframe questions that may be more inclusive of multiple voices, truths, and complex ways that we might self-identify. Therefore, MRN asks that ACPA “think outside the box” when collecting demographic information from its members from this point forward.

Again, we want to note that we are glad ACPA was quick to change the format of the original question after the issue was noted. At the same time, we feel that it is important to respond in this capacity and offer recommendations so we as an organization can circumvent similar potentially marginalizing questions in our data collection.


Because we understand the complexities associated with this type of call to action, below we provide some recommendations for future racial and/or ethnic demographic data collection efforts by the ACPA community.

  • Clarify construct(s) you are trying to collect: People understand “race” and “ethnicity” in different ways; therefore you should not just collapse these two constructs but actually clarify which construct you are trying to collect.  Adding a definition and/or example responses could be very helpful for guiding respondents.

  • Use questions in more purposeful ways: As Renn (2004) argued, it may be important to be asking at least two questions to meet your data needs, one related to racial “ancestry” as well as “identity.” For instance, asking “How do you racially identify?” might get you different results from “What is your racial background?” (Johnston et al., 2009). Therefore, we ask that you think deeply about how the data will be used, and then decide how to pose the prompting of the question to collect that data.

  • Provide many more response options, as well as the ability to check all that apply: Including a “multiracial” or “mixed” response option as well as providing the ability to mark one or more options will allow you to capture both individuals who are multiracially-identified and also those who acknowledge multiple heritages but may not identify as multiracial.

  • Use an open-ended question format:  Yes, this will mean more time for coding and collapsing these responses, but it should also gather more meaningful data, especially in terms of how people actually identify outside of the response options you’ve provided.

If you have questions or other suggestions for best practices, please add them to the comments below.  Together, we can move our field forward in collecting demographic information that is meaningful to analysts and also affirming of the diverse identities of our community.

In solidarity,

The Multiracial Network Leadership Team, 2012-2013
Rosanna Reyes, Current Chair, Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs
Windi Sasaki, Past Chair, Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs


Binning, K. R., Unzueta, M. M., Huo, Y. J., & Molina, L. E. (2009. The interpretation of multiracial status and its relation to social engagement and psychological well-being. Journal of Social Issues, 65(10), 35–49.

Herman, M. (2004). Forced to choose: Some determinants of racial identification in multiracial adolescents. Child Development, 75(3), 730-748.

Johnston, M. P. & Nadal, K. L. (2010). Multiracial microaggressions: Exposing monoracism in everyday life and clinical practice. In D. W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact (pp. 123-144). New York: Wiley & Sons.

Johnston, M. P., Ozaki, C. C., Pizzolato, J. E., & Chaudhari, P. (2009, November). Which box do I check and when? Exploring students’ rationales behind racial identification. Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education Annual Conference, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Kellogg, A. H., & Liddell, D. L. (2012). “Not half but double”: Exploring critical incidents in the racial identity of multiracial college students. Journal of College Student Development, 53(4), 524-541.

Renn, K. A. (2004). Mixed race students in college: The ecology of race, identity, and community on campus. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Sanchez, D. T. (2010). How do forced-choice dilemmas affect multiracial people? The role of identity autonomy and public regard in depressive symptoms. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 1657–1677.

Townsend, S. S. M., Markus, H. R., & Bergsieker, H. B. (2009). My choice, your categories: The denial of multiracial identities. Journal of Social Issues, 65(1), 185–204.


7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the ACPA Community

  1. Melvin E Monette

    As a member (literally must enroll to be a member of a federally recognized tribe) of a group that is seen as a racial and political group, I had the same reaction. I immediately sent a note to Kathy OBear of Equity and Inclusion asking her to look into it. My parents are half Aniishinaabe (Chippewa), thus making me half as well. Our other half is White. I wrote to Kathy how disappointed I was to, again, be asked to choose which half of myself I would identify. I am not half a person, nor am I other. Thank you MRN for this letter and leadership. The Native American Network joins you in solidarity. – Melvin E Monette, Chair, NAN.

  2. Pingback: An open letter to ACPA from the Multi Racial Network | Commission for Social Justice Educators Blog

  3. Amber Garrison Duncan

    Thank you for this thoughtful post with recommendations. I led the social media for Student Affairs Assessment Leaders and I just shared this on our Facebook page so more assessment leaders can be informed.

  4. Tomás

    This article provides a possible way to collect ethnoracial information that allows for multiple responses: Solorzano, R., & Ahlen, S. (2010). Latino Questions on Race, Ethnicity, and Language at the Advent of the 2010 Census. Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, 22, 17–45.

  5. Thomas Lopez

    This is a very well thought out response to the issue and a good opening to a larger conversation. A single question on a single form used by a single organization may not seem like much, but when added up with all the other forms we are asked to complete it becomes significant. Also, it becomes difficult when comparing data between databases, for example, ACPA demographics to Census data. I wonder if the ACPA receives any federal funding and if that funding would be in jeopardy because their demographic collection methods are not in compliance with federal standards. Cheers to MRN for the courage to raise awareness of this issue.

  6. Amanda Suniti Niskode-Dossett

    I fully support this letter. I am so proud to be a member of MRN, a strong organization that is committed advocating on behalf of multiracial individuals, including multiracial student affairs professionals. Thank you for taking the time to draft this excellent letter and sharing it with us.

  7. Pingback: ACPA’s Response to MRN’s Open Letter | Multiracial Network Blog

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