UC to include Southwest Asian, North African category on next year’s undergraduate application

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Following a campaign led by UC Berkeley students to expand representation of historically miscategorized groups, the University of California will be among the country’s first universities to collect and report data on Southwest Asian and North African students next year.

The new category, “Southwest Asian/North African,” also known as SWANA, will become a part of the ethnicity portion of the UC application beginning with the 2013-14 application. SWANA will eliminate the need for the “Middle Eastern” and “North African” subcategories, which were previously listed under the parent category of “White/Caucasian” and thus not tracked by the university.

According to a UC spokesperson, the administration worked with student members of the SWANA campaign to create the new category. Spearheaded by UC Berkeley students Christina Mehranbod — who led outreach for the SWANA Campaign Committee — and Nairi Shirinian, the campaign has garnered endorsements from 140 student groups across the UC system as well as the student governments at UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Davis. The ASUC passed a bill in support of the creation of a SWANA check box in April 2012.

“This is a distinct community that the university should be paying attention to,” Mehranbod said. “It’s a really exciting thing.”

According to Shirinian, a 2011-12 ASUC senator, the change will better gauge how well Middle Eastern students are represented in the UC system and enable the university to allocate resources more judiciously.

Rather than listing their ethnicity as “White/Caucasian” or “Other,” students will now be able to choose from various subcategories under SWANA, including Tunisian, Israeli and Palestinian.

The new subcategories, which were formulated after workshops with various Middle Eastern communities on campus, are generally distinguished from each other by country.

“We found through research that those communities would identify more by nationality than by Arab or minority groups,” Shirinian said. “‘Arab’ became too broad to encompass the diversity within the group. There’s a lot of discrepancy within the Arab community.”

UC Berkeley students have been generally supportive of the change to the application as a means of providing a cogent voice to misrepresented groups.

Campus senior Sahra Mirbabaee, a member of the Iranian Students Cultural Organization, said that the old UC application did not represent her ethnicity.

“I have to put myself in a category where I don’t fit in,” Mirbabaee said. “Even for an Iranian, I have dark skin, so I don’t think it’s correct for myself to be in the category of white, because it doesn’t represent how I’m perceived by society.”

UC Davis student Kriti Garg, who authored a resolution in support of the SWANA campaign for the UC Davis student government in March, said the three-year process of collective action has spurred thoughts of mobilizing other groups such as the South and Southeast Asian ethnic communities.

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.