Identity Data Collection

Why Do We Collect Data on Students’ Identities?

All higher education institutions in the U.S. that receive federal funding are required to report aggregate statistics about students, faculty, and staff. This includes counts of how many people are in each race/ethnicity and gender category. But beyond this, this information is used to better understand how different groups of students are experiencing Williams and identify inequities in student experiences.

Data Privacy

Race, ethnicity, gender identity, and transgender status are confidential information. While we are required to report publicly on total numbers of students by race, ethnicity, and gender identity, we don’t share individuals’ identities publicly or in communication with family members or others, unless we have explicit student consent to share this information, or are required by law. Within Williams, this information is only shared with staff who need access in order to do their jobs. Faculty, for example, do not have access to individual students’ race and ethnicity, gender identity, or transgender status. They do have access to student pronouns. Information on students’ transgender status is seen by a far more restricted group of staff who need access in order to support and conduct data analysis.

Our practices around race and ethnicity, gender identity, and transgender status collection and usage are developed in collaboration with and governed by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Trans Inclusion Committee, the Diversity Action Research Team, and the Registrar’s Office.

Identity Data Collection Processes

Race and Ethnicity Data Collection

Williams collects race and ethnicity data in accordance with requirements from the federal government. In cases where we need to report students’ race and ethnicity in a single category, such as for the Common Data Set or federal reporting, we use the federal rules for reducing multiple selections down to a single category. For much of our internal reporting and analysis, we count students in all of the categories with which they identify, when possible. For example, a student who identifies as Hispanic or Latino and Black or African American would be counted in both of those categories. International students, who are reported in a separate category for federal reporting are counted internally both as international students and as any racial or ethnic categories they select.

Students can log into the Williams Student Records system at any time and update their responses to the race and ethnicity questions. We recognize that the current data collection questions have many shortcomings. As of spring 2023, the federal Office of Management and Budget is seeking input on a proposal to change the way race and ethnicity data is collected. Under this proposal, there would be a new “Middle Eastern or North African” race option, and there would be an option to collect far more detailed data. It’s our hope that this proposal will be adopted and implemented quickly and our transition to Workday Student will offer more opportunities for more sophisticated and streamlined data collection and management.

Gender Identity Data Collection

For external reporting, internal analysis, and in its data systems where possible, Williams categorizes students as male, female, or another gender. Because we recognize that “another gender” encompasses a wide range of identities, our data collection enables students to enter further detail in a text box. We chose this approach for two primary reasons. First, we are required to report on students as either male, female, or another gender, so we’d prefer to have students choose which one of these categories best aligns with their gender identity or identities rather than having Williams staff try to choose one of these categories for students who have chosen from a more nuanced set of categories. Second, we recognize that best practices for collecting gender identity and the categories with which students most commonly identify are evolving, and this approach allows for some of that evolution.

Students can log into the Williams Student Records system at any time and update their gender identity. The gender identity category chosen (male, female, or another gender) in the Williams Student Records system feeds into other systems on campus that store gender identity. In general, we do not consider gender identity something that many people on campus need to know, preferring to share pronouns, if possible.

Finally, we understand that gender identity may depend on the context in which it’s being asked. Gender identity data collected in PeopleSoft can be thought of as data that will be used in aggregate reporting. For example, we’ll use these categories when reporting course enrollment or major counts by gender. In contexts where individual gender identity may be needed for a specific purpose, like housing or travel, the relevant campus office will do a separate collection of gender identity data.

Transgender Status Collection

We collect transgender status for internal purposes only, so that we can have a better sense of the size of the trans and transgender population on campus and better understand trans experiences in order to better address the needs of our transgender students. Students can log into the Williams Student Records system at any time and update their transgender status. See the section on data privacy for more information about handling of this data.