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March 8, 1999 - March 21, 1999
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Michigan State U. Students
Change Ethnicity in Official School Records


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By Mary Sell
The State News
Michigan State University
Published Mar. 8, 1999


(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. -- About 15 Chicano and Latino students became "white" Thursday.

Saying they do not want their numbers benefiting a university that doesn't allow them to study their heritage, members of Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan and Culturas de las Razas Unidas changed their ethnicity to white on university records in the Administration Building.

"We only have 300 Chicano-registered students in the university," said Adelita Garcia, an education sophomore who changed her ethnicity on the records.

"If 10 of us change it, that will change the university's percentages, which will only hurt the university. It is not helping us any to be classified as No. 3 or No. 4."

In a question on MSU applications that asks students to identify their ethnicity, choice No. 3 is "Chicano/Mexican American" and No. 4 is "Hispanic." In fall 1998, 379 MSU students were registered as Chicano or Mexican American and 687 registered as Hispanic, said MSU spokesman Terry Denbow.

"We will always be proud of our diversity ," Denbow said. "Just as these students will always be proud of their Chicano heritage."

Thursday's protest followed a demonstration last week in which members of the same organizations checked out about 4,500 books from MSU's Main Library to make a point about what they say is their lack of resources. They returned the books the next day.

The students, who have been pushing for a Chicano-Latino full-degree program, said Thursday that MSU should create a 23-credit Chicano-Latino specialization program. The university now has an 18-credit Latino studies specialization.

"We're just showing what we can do," Garcia said. "All we want is a Chicano studies program so we can learn our history, too."

Although they asked for a 23-credit program Thursday, the groups will continue their push for a full-degree program "as long as it takes," said social work senior Marcelina Trevino, who is co-chairperson of Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan.

Rosa Salas said she didn't want the university to use her and others by promoting itself with minority student statistics.

"They get to say they are progressive by having us check No. 3, but they don't take that into the academic realm," said Salas, a member of the two student groups and a social relations junior. "We refuse to be used."

The groups have a history of demonstrating against what they say is unfair treatment by MSU.

In February 1998, three Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan members were arrested for disturbing MSU President M. Peter McPherson's State of the University address. In October 1997, police removed six members of the group from McPherson's residence after they began demonstrating at a reception given for student leaders.

Thursday, the students were delayed for about an hour while MSU officials sorted out the procedure for changing university records. After being told they couldn't change their ethnicity, even with two pieces of identification that proved who they were and their signed consent, students insisted to see a written policy that prevented them from doing it.

Students demanded to see Linda Lou Smith, the assistant to the provost for enrollment services, who acts as registrar. Smith spoke with the students and wrote a new policy that allows students to change their ethnicity on university records if they have their student ID and sign their consent. She blamed the delay on confusion.

"This is not something that happens very often," Smith said.

Students also entered Provost Lou Anna Simon's office, followed by broadcast and print media, to present their proposed specialization curriculum.

After learning Simon was out of town, the students talked to Robert Banks, assistant provost for academic human resources. Banks said any proposed specialization would be examined in the college it would be offered in and a university committee would then review the proposal.

"It could take a long time, depending on the nature of it, or a short time," Banks said.

The groups have a meeting with Simon next week to further discuss the specialization.

Although she now is listed as white on university records, Garcia said her ethnicity has changed only on paper.

"It's just a name -- it is just a label they put on us," she said. "I define who I am."

Sell, State News minority affairs reporter, can be reached at

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