The Identity Threat

Requiring proof of ethnicity from any ethnic group is invasive and insulting

What is your identity?

While this question is not designed to be invasive, for many, the question of identity is not a simple one. If a person is Catholic but does not practice his religion, answering whether or not he is Catholic might be difficult—while he is technically Catholic, he may not identify as such. Racial identity—particularly in the case of Native Americans—can sometimes be just as complicated as religious identity. Taking this into account, Harvard University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions should continue its practice of not requiring a tribal identification card or some other form of proof of Native American identity for students who identify themselves as Native Americans.

Within the Native community, there are vast discrepancies in the percent of Native blood necessary to qualify one as a member of a tribe. While someone who is 1/64 Cherokee can still register with the Cherokee nation, someone who is 1/64 Lenape cannot register with the Lenape nation. Someone who is 1/64 Cherokee may strongly identify with his tribe, but he also may not; the same can be said for the Lenape. One can be issued a Tribal ID card, however, and the other cannot. This example indicates that the tribal identification card is irrelevant to one’s true identity, as no ID card can prove where a person’s heart lies.

With the vast amount of intermarriage between Natives and non-Natives, tracing one’s bloodline can become complicated. A person might know he has a Native American grandparent, yet he might be distant from that relative. He might be unsure of the tribe. But that does not change the fact that he is Native American. He is not dishonest in checking the box accordingly, even though he can provide no proof and does not know his tribe.

Asking Native Americans to provide proof of their identity also opens the door to applying the process to African-Americans, Latinos and any other so-called “minority” or “desirable” group. It displays a blatant lack of trust that is insulting to Harvard’s applicants. It forces students to provide tangible evidence that their background is what they say it is. This is uncomfortable for many students still struggling with their identities, as well as cumbersome for all.

The point of affirmative action in the admissions process is to bring diversity to Harvard College. Diversity comes in many forms. There are many upbringings that cannot be described on paper or through checkboxes on a college application. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions should therefore avoid the temptation to place students in boxes. Instead, it should allow students to present themselves in whatever manner they see fit, and trust them to do so, perhaps by adding an optional diversity statement to the application. Implying that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions does not believe students are who they say they are sets a bad precedent that the University cannot ethically afford to set.

Reva P. Minkoff ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall. Adam P. Schneider ’07, a Crimson associate magazine editor, is a government concentrator in Quincy House.