Published online July 6, 2017

I read with interest the story regarding students offered admission at Princeton for the Class of 2021 (On the Campus, April 26). In particular, I was intrigued by the statistic that 53.4 percent of admits self-declared as a racial or ethnic minority, which I find troubling. I simply don’t believe that this group represents students who may come from such backgrounds or from particular communities. I would presume that the correct percentage of admits who truly live within and identify with a particular racial or ethnic group is probably more like 15 to 20 percent, but this is just a guess.

As many of my colleagues in health-services research, I now try to avoid using variables that identify race or ethnicity, as these have become meaningless in a world in which we have a growing number of mixed-race/mixed-ethnicity households that may or may not identify or live within a particular community. In essence, these variables have become meaningless, and I suggest that without some additional information over and above self-declaration, this information is largely worthless for the admission process at select institutions like Princeton.

I would suggest that the admission office consider adopting a process of cross-checking self-identified racial or ethnic declarations against the zip code or postal code of the admission candidate’s residence. Both the U.S. Census and Statistics Canada are able to identify those codes largely associated with disproportionate ethnic/racial compositions which, to some extent, the self-declaration is designed to identify. I thus would try to cross-reference the self-declaration with at least this added bit of information in the future.

Eric Nauenberg ’86
Associate Professor of Health Economics, Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, University of Toronto; Toronto, Ontario