Op-Ed: Disaggregate the diaspora

Ranen Miao, Class of 2023 | Christian Monzon, Class of 2022 | Jessica Yu, Class of 2021

During Chancellor Martin’s inaugural address, he proclaimed that Washington University “aspire[s] to become a place that is both diverse and unapologetically committed to equity and inclusion—because we know full well that diversity on paper is one thing, and equity and inclusion are another.” Today, we call on our administration to follow through.

According to the Office of the University Registrar, “nearly 50% of Wash. U. students identify with a non-white ethnic or racial group or international population.” The overly broad label “non-white ethnic or racial group or international population,” however, dangerously trivializes the diasporas and intersectional identities of students across campus. All South Asian and East Asian students are forced under the Asian umbrella; all Central American and South American students are squeezed into the Hispanic/Latino monolith; and all Afro-Caribbean and African students are cramped under the Black label. Chancellor Martin—and Wash. U.—cannot claim to celebrate diversity without understanding the cultures and people it purports to admit, enroll and support.

Our campaign, Disaggregate the Diaspora, is based on the fundamental truth that those in positions of power—not at Wash. U., not anywhere—cannot serve students while generalizing individual diasporas into these wide labels. We—and the leaders of the Association of Black Students (ABS), the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), Asian and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ) and Queens—urge that administrators and Washington University acknowledge the varied experiences within the categories to which they assign us. We—the authors of this article—identify not just as Latin American or Asian, but as specific identities, including gay, Mexican, Chinese-American, and first-generation students. Just like a Jamaican student is not only Black, just like a Saudi Arabian student is not only Middle Eastern.

Thus, we call on Washington University to disaggregate its data on undergraduate and graduate student demographics, including ethnicity, class, gender and more to substantially reflect and serve its students. By doing so, Washington University will hold itself accountable in its claims to create a more inclusive, supported student body. Recognizing that Hmong or Afro-Latinx students are underrepresented, Wash. U. can create more targeted affirmative action programs. Understanding that greater numbers of students might come from low socioeconomic status who are Nigerian can prompt Wash. U. to create a food pantry with Nigerian ingredients. Seeing higher numbers of non-binary students, Wash. U. could hire more gender-affirming mental health professionals. While none of the aforementioned examples occurred in any specific university to our knowledge, we list them to illustrate the possibilities of what Wash. U. could observe with disaggregated data, and how Wash. U. can use disaggregated data to create a more supportive campus.

For example, we can look no further than the University of California system to see a form of what we want. In 2014, the University of California system supported 102,758 Asian students—no more, no less. But within that group, they also had 43,169 Chinese students, 1,400 Pakistani students and 537 Malaysian students. Everyone can see it, including UC’s upper administration. One can question their methods—why they disaggregate into so many individual countries for Asian students but not as many for Black and Latinx students, or why they use whole numbers rather than percentages—but ultimately they took a step forward in acknowledging the diversity under the surface. UC implemented disaggregated data in 2014, offering them a pathway to support all their students, not just the students fitting the broader labels. And they did it across 9 schools. Wash. U. has no excuse.

This initiative to disaggregate student body data initially started as a single-organization campaign in 2019 by APIDJ to disaggregate the Asian undergraduate student body demographics. However, subsequent administrative transitions and the COVID-19 pandemic led APIDJ’s effort to become essentially forgotten and stalled for 2 years. But the importance and urgency of this for our community has not changed; it has only grown along with our continuously diversifying institution.

So, for Wash. U. to make this a priority, we need momentum. Check out our Instagram, share our materials and come to our virtual town hall on March 25 at 6:00 p.m. CST. There, we will discuss why we believe disaggregation to be not only important but also essential for Wash. U. to follow through on Chancellor Martin’s promises. To echo the chancellor’s own words, “diversity on paper is one thing, and equity and inclusion are another.” But so far, what Wash. U. has on paper is emphatically not equity or inclusion.

Washington University, we call on you to disaggregate the diaspora.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.