Students, faculty discuss multiracial identity

Students explored multiracial identities on campuses and in the workplace at a panel discussion Tuesday night in Phillips Hall that was part of Mixed Race Awareness month.

Remix, GW’s Racially and Ethnically Mixed student organization, hosted the discussion called “Caught in the Mix.”

The Mixed Race Awareness program began last year as a weeklong project, but was expanded this year to all of November. The change reflects the increasing number of mixed students in the GW community, organizers said.

“There are a number of educators who have researched the relationship between identity, self awareness and self actualization,” said Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center. “It is clear that a strong sense of ‘who you are and whose you are’ . has a direct correlation between being open to other cultures and increasing the likelihood of reaching one’s highest potential.”

The panel included part-time professor Michael Wenger and Student Association President Lamar Thorpe, a senior, and the co-founder and former president of Remix, Brandon Porter, now an alumnus. Representatives from the Muslim Student Association and the Organization of Latino America Students also participated in the panel, which was moderated by Remix President Jennifer Butler, a senior.

The discussion spanned across many subjects dealing with multiracial identities. The panelists and the 20 audience members agreed that parents need to let their children discover and develop their own identities.

“Parents need to let kids explore . and find their identities for themselves. We still confront institutional racism in society. We didn’t hide the rest of (my son’s) heritage from him. He had to be able to cope,” said Wenger, whose son is multiracial.

Thorpe, a black student who was adopted by a Mexican family in California at a young age, also discussed the importance of parent guidance.

“Parents should take the time to say, ‘even though our family is like this, the world will see you as this (race), ” said.

As the discussion moved toward the subject of college and job applications, many students expressed frustration with racial self-identification.

The majority of the students who attended the panel discussion were multiracial and many expressed disapproval with the application term “other” in the self-identification section. Thirteen percent of this year’s freshman class self-identified themselves as multiracial on their college application, according to information provided at the event.

The panel also touched on the dilemma of racial identity and conversation outside of college.

“The conversation continues whether or not you are done talking,” Porter said. “What I find most frustrating is that there are celebrities who could be role models for multiracial kids who are confused, but they are not.”

Wenger agreed, but noted society also affects role models. “Society makes it difficult for (these celebrities) to sustain their multiracial identities. Barack Obama will be called ‘the first black president,’ not the ‘first mixed president,'” he said.

Butler closed the panel discussion with a forward-looking approach to the topic and its ramifications on college students.

“Remix is not the only place for these discussions …. continue talking to people about this topic; we are not the only ones who feel this is important,” Butler said.

“Caught in the Mix” is one of many events sponsored by Remix and the MSSC as part of November’s Mixed Race Awareness Month.

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