Opinion

Why We Must Do Better on Diversity Statistics

Story By | Michael Sagna, Staff Editor

Photo Credit | Vaness Kow (Yale-NUS Intercultural Engagement Team)

 

In previous years, the articles published in The Octant about the statistics of incoming classes focused heavily on the information that the Admissions Office deems is good publicity—the number of different nationalities represented, the admissions rate, the ratio of international students to Singaporeans, and sex. Not much outside of this, however, is said explicitly about diversity.

Needless to say, diversity is a crucial part of any truly enriching liberal arts education. This diversity should not exist for its own sake, but because differences in cultures, upbringings, and perspectives enrich our learning and contribute to better understandings of how the world works.

This year, I wanted to probe further. Yale-NUS College recently rescinded the need-blind status to international students as part of an effort to reduce the college’s spending. I therefore encouraged The Octant to enquire about statistics on the financial, ethnic, and gender diversity within our community, in addition to the typical measures, so that we as a student body can monitor our college’s changing composition.

According to The Octant’s staff editor Xie Yihui ‘23 who wrote the article, she originally approached admissions for information on the following:

Information granted in full:

  • Class size
  • Nationality
  • Previous schooling of Singaporeans
  • Percentage of students receiving financial aid packages (from Class of 2017 to Class of 2024)

Information partially granted:

  • Admissions rate (breakdown for local and international not granted)
  • Wait-listing rate

Information denied:

  • Yield rate
  • Preferred major as indicated in the application form
  • Ethnicity

Information not collected:

  • Gender
  • Percentage of first-generation college students

To be frank, the limited range of data released by Admissions was disappointing. In asking for this information, we wanted to ensure transparency in the admissions processes of the college by giving the wider college community a quantitative picture of diversity within the college. Transparency is a crucial pillar of accountability—after all, the first step towards addressing any issue is identifying it accurately.

The reasoning The Octant was given behind the administration’s reluctance to give us data was that it would be inconsistent, or that it does not accurately reflect the student population. 

Although we were given statistics on sex, when we enquired about gender identity (a measure which more accurately reflects our population, as well as including non-binary students) we were told that this was not recorded formally and advised to instead approach the Dean of Students Office. Unfortunately, they did not have the data either. It is not exactly promising that two crucial parts of the Yale-NUS administration did not collect data as simple as gender identity from our students, especially in a college whose students are so active in queer activism in Singapore.

Similarly, statistics about first-generation status, whether or not a student is the first generation in their family to have attended university, were also unrecorded. Admissions cited difficulties in defining the term and gray areas for not collecting this data, though they did mention that they would consider including the question in the upcoming 2021 admissions cycle.

An example of inconsistent, rather than nonexistent, data collection is in ethnicity. This dataset was purportedly incoherent due to the fact that there are different channels to apply to Yale-NUS and hence, different classification systems. In addition, declaring ethnicity was optional on the Common Application, so the statistics that the administration has are not fully representative.

If we look at the example of ethnicity, I would argue that Yale-NUS should release this data anyway. Yale-NUS students are conscientious, and our extensive (mandatory) courses on data analysis would allow us to interpret this data with a critical eye.

More data cannot possibly be less representative. Ethnicity should not be considered the sole measurement of diversity, but neither should nationality. I would contend that ethnicity is still a relevant factor, and should be considered alongside socioeconomic status (as represented by financial aid awarded) and gender, in addition to nationality.

Ultimately, the question this raises is about how we define diversity. Nationality, which Admissions currently seems to be using as its benchmark, gives an incomplete picture of a student’s background and seems somewhat tokenistic.

No country on earth is homogenous, and so the idea that having a student from x nationality adds y perspective is laughable. It is also questionable in that it only reflects the citizenship(s) held by a student, rather than reflecting the places they identify with or call home.

Furthermore, given that studying abroad tends to be for the privileged, with the end of need-blind admissions, Yale-NUS’s international students will likely become more socioeconomically homogenous. If a large proportion of our international students represent the same international-schooled primarily English-speaking elites, can we truly call ourselves diverse?

Our ability to ask difficult questions like these is hindered by Yale-NUS’s practice of not releasing this data. This can be seen in their reluctance to distinguish between the percentage of Singaporeans and international students receiving need-based financial aid.

Once again, the reasoning given is that there are different government aid schemes available for the two groups, and so the data is not representative. Once again, I would argue that more data, when considered in context, can only elucidate the state of diversity at Yale-NUS.

These issues point towards a lack of commitment from the Yale-NUS administration not only to transparency, but also to investigating our college to ensure that we are as diverse as we make out to be. A disproportionately homogeneous demographic in any way could undermine Yale-NUS’s raison d’être.

Yale-NUS is a college that purports to cultivate critical thinkers, and so we as students should be allowed to put these skills to good use by questioning whether the college is representative of the world we live in. This can only be achieved through the mandatory comprehensive collection of data by our administration, and the publication of this data to the student population.

 

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

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