The most recent Chronicle issue features an excellent piece by Naomi Schiffer Riley on the contortions of accommodating “mixed-race identity” in schools.
The comment period has closed on proposed new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education on how colleges should ask students about race. No longer, the guidelines say, should applicants simply be given the choice of black, white, Asian, American Indian (or Alaska Native), or native Hawaiian (or other Pacific Islander). Now they should be allowed to check off more than one box, as well as note whether they identify as Hispanic. Eugene L. Anderson, an associate director of the American Council on Education, told Diverse, a higher-education magazine, that he expected colleges would be pleased with the new guidelines: “They make sense; they respect peoples’ individual notion of racial identity, which is important.”
This doesn’t sound unreasonable – a simple designation of racial identity is inapt for our modern, increasingly mixed society. But where will we find the groups for these students?
An article last semester in The Harvard Crimson detailed the complaints of a number of mixed-race students who said they felt uneasy attending the meetings of groups that were meant for only one of their multiple ethnicities. Paloma A. Zepeda, half-Mexican and half-Russian, said that when she came to meetings for the Mexican-American student group Raza, people would say, “Look, white people come to Raza.” Ms. Zepeda protested, “I am a member of the Hispanic community, but I don’t think that’s the sum total of everything.”
Then there was Yalun H. Tu. He told the Crimson reporter he felt uncomfortable at the Chinese-student gatherings: “They would talk about how Chinese mothers are overbearing and strict. But my mother is Caucasian and relaxed, so I couldn’t empathize.” He lamented, “I just didn’t feel that communal bond that I think often binds these groups.”
Some of these “outcasts” have started forming new groups. Harvard now has ReMixed, a new multiracial organization on the campus. The University of California at Berkeley has a Mixed Student Union; then there is Brown University’s Organization of Multiracial and Biracial Students and Bryn Mawr College’s Half and Half. Several campuses have “Hapa” organizations for “half-Asian” students.
But even those mixed-race groups cannot satisfy some students. One told the Crimson that her acquaintances at Harvard’s Hapa group focused too much on East Asian identities, instead of South Asian ones. They went out, she complained, for dim sum, “which I enjoy, but don’t identify with culturally.” But she didn’t feel welcome in the regular South Asian group, either, because in a theatrical performance the group’s leaders cast her in the role of a white person.
The level of specificity that seems to be required for many young men and women to feel comfortable today is bordering on the absurd. Ultimately it’s sad. Advocates of diversity on college campuses insist that they are not just assembling faces of different colors for aesthetic purposes; they are trying to offer students a model of how to live in a multiracial, multiethnic society. But students do not seem to be learning to be more tolerant of people unlike them. They are demanding that they be surrounded and sheltered by people who are exactly like them.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of modern college existence is watch racial segregation amidst activities and clubs increase as students get older. Freshman classes resemble ideals of diversity, but some fair portion of this falls away into racial groupings in successive years. It’s undeniable that students find elements in common with persons of common ethnic or racial heritage, but the process of division is actively encouraged by schools and groups. The road to colorblindness is paved with innumerable boxes. Remember to check every race; Cambodian-Russian-Salvadoran? They’ll find a group for you.