Sophomore Stephanie Cook cannot go out with her boyfriend’s parents when they come to town, and she has a hard time even walking through campus without getting looks from her peers. Cook, a black woman, is one of many college students dealing with the obstacles of an interracial relationship.
“In terms of reaction from other people, it’s been quite frustrating,” Cook said. “It puts a strain on our relationship.”
Cook, who has been dating a white Jewish man from Georgetown University for about two years, was one of nearly 50 students who attended a R.E.A.L. Conversation forum about interracial dating Monday night. The forums, which take place throughout the year and cover issues such as violence against women, are meant to give students an opportunity to talk about difficult issues in a relaxed setting.
“It’s more comfortable sharing views about controversial topics,” Allison McCallie, assistant program coordinator for the Student Activities Center, said.
R.E.A.L. Conversations sessions focus on themes such as relationships, ethnicity and activism, wrote Grace Henry, SAC’s assistant director of leadership, training and development, in an e-mail.
“From a student development standpoint, creating space for GW students to have conversations that deal with issues of sensitivity and diversity is important particularly as we aim to create global leaders,” she said.
Part-time sociology professor Reginald Jones moderated Monday night’s event. Groups co-sponsoring the event, including the Student Association, Multicultural Greek Council and the Black Student Union, recommended him as a candidate to lead the discussion.
Jones launched the interracial dating discussion with some background information and light humor.
Jones said people are generally tense when talking about race, but will flat out “shut down” when discussing race and dating.
He shared some startling facts with the audience before the discussion began, such as the status of anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. South Carolina, Jones explained, did not remove its prohibition against interracial marriage until 1998.
There are about 1.2 million mixed race couples in the U.S., with 57 percent of teenagers reporting that they have dated someone outside their race, Jones said.
Opponents and proponents of interracial dating were equally represented at the meeting, with several students claiming they would only date members of the same race.
“You need to preserve your heritage … you need to preserve your culture,” one student said. Many had a similar sentiment, saying interracial dating is a corruption of culture.
Some students at the forum said their parents would disown them if they dated outside their race. Others disagreed, saying they had had meaningful interracial relationships.
“Nothing is going to change if we keep thinking inside this box,” said one female. “I don’t want my kids to have to wait until college to see that.”
Jones, a black man, heartily agreed with those students who approved of interracial dating. He said students should not worry what “the rest of the world thinks” about their decision to date outside their race
Jones said he has dated white, black, Asian and Hispanic women and found them all to have “their quirks.” Jones said it is permissible to have a racial preference, as long as people do not discount all others.
“If you prefer a big booty that’s fine,” Jones said. “I just think people should marry who they want to marry.”
McCallie said moderators such as Jones help guide discussion and keep students focused.
“We have moderators because they provide a little bit of structure to the conversation,” McCallie said.
The interracial dating discussion was the most popular of the R.E.A.L. Conversation series yet, with almost twice as many students attending Monday night’s program compared to other events.
“It’s a pretty controversial subject,” McCallie said. “It’s an issue that a lot of students … have a lot to say about.”
As Cook continues to deal with the bias that accompanies an interracial relationship, she said she is happy to have a place where she can discuss it openly with her peers.
“It was really good to ask myself questions that other people brought up,” Cook said. “It made my own opinion about my relationship clearer.”