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Self-identification by people of colour important in antidiscrimination data collection

19-09-2022

Dutch universities currently have very little information on the migration background, ethnicity or racialisation of their staff. Collecting this data is controversial but can help combat racism and discrimination.

The Young Academy examined options for collecting antidiscrimination data in a manner that allows people of colour to self-identify.

Read the summary of the reports

Statistics are vital to efforts to study and challenge discrimination and racism in Dutch academia but the collection of quantitative data is controversial for several reasons (it played a role in the Childcare Benefits scandal, for example). The Young Academy is publishing two reports today addressing this data collection problem and offering a partial solution. The key is ‘self-identification’, i.e. asking students and staff to self-report their ethnicity, origins, religion, and so on, rather than having third parties categorise them based on data from population statistics, as is currently customary in the Netherlands. The reports explore two aspects that have so far been absent from the discussion: what universities abroad are doing, and what people of colour in the academic community think about data collection.

Points to consider

The study does not provide a basis for firm conclusions or recommendations, but it does highlight various points to be considered in future discussions and by knowledge institutions that intend to start collecting data. Tentative conclusions are that the students and staff of colour interviewed consider data collection a necessary evil. It is only advisable if students and staff of colour are actually involved in the entire process and if the institution collecting the data is demonstrably reliable. Self-reporting is the preferred method, and it should be possible to modify or add categories. In the case of knowledge institutions outside the Netherlands, the data collection method is determined by the country’s colonial history and national laws and regulations. There is also a distinction between data collection at national and institutional level. The former is imposed from the top down to monitor compliance with national diversity policies. The second is undertaken by the institution itself and is meant to identify and actively combat inequality and racism.

Methodology

The Young Academy researchers interviewed eleven staff of colour at Dutch universities and five representatives of multicultural and/or antiracist student organisations. They also analysed survey methods in other countries that make use of self-identification and, in some cases, multiple choice answers.

Read the reports

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