Anonymous Diversity Surveys are Not Anonymous

For lone underrepresented minorities, checking boxes can oust your identity. Or erase it.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Imagine being The Only Hispanic Female faculty in your department. You receive a survey gauging faculty needs and perceptions of campus leadership. Those needs might include affordable daycare, and those perceptions may be that upper admin runs a good PR campaign valuing diversity but when the rubber hits the road those policies lack substance.

That survey also has checkboxes collecting demographic information. For underrepresented minorities, anonymous checkboxes are not anonymous. Most ‘anonymized’ surveys don’t detail the level at which the results are anonymized. Because most surveys collect individual responses, you should assume that The Only [insert underrepresented minority here] is easily identifiable from the responses.

When I fill out demographic questions on surveys, under the race/ethnicity question I either check the ‘decline response’ option, ignoring my identity, or I fill in the ‘white’ option, erasing my identity. If I’m feeling brazen and check the ‘Hispanic’ and ‘female’ options, I make sure my survey responses are tepid.

This small act is one of the many daily and persistent reminders of the structural inequalities facing underrepresented minority faculty. It’s incessant. And exhausting.

Take Action

For those creating surveys about diversity, make sure you truly anonymize your survey. Truly anonymizing a survey means

  1. demographic questions are scrubbed or unlinked from survey questions and
  2. the survey wording clearly states this upfront.

I hope to see the day when there are enough minority faculty to be anonymous.

I am a tropical ecologist. I write about life in the field and in academia.

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