Checking boxes: Exploring how race and ethnicity are measured

Cassandra Pattanayak (Wellesley College)


Many of today’s students are quick to agree that survey respondents should be able to self-identify race and ethnicity by checking multiple boxes or answering multiple questions. However, when asked to summarize the resulting, complicated responses, students grapple with the tension between asking questions in an inclusive way and producing usable data and objective reports. This session shows how exploring survey questions about race and ethnicity can engage students from all backgrounds. We will discuss specific class exercises that use race/ethnicity variables to teach data cleaning, data ethics, missing data, and visualization in a way that excites students and highlights subjectivity. The focus is not on exploring the relationship between race/ethnicity and other variables, but rather on motivating data topics via survey questions that measure race and ethnicity.