Hot Topic ideas for MRN-Related ACPA Convention Proposals

By Marc Johnston, MRN Chair

During the MultiRacial Network’s Open Business Meeting at the 2011 ACPA Convention in Baltimore, we conducted a brainstorming exercise on “hot topics” for our network.  Although this list is not exhaustive of all the potential hot topics out there related to multiracial and mixed heritage issues in higher education, here are several topics and issues that we feel could be incorporated into your ACPA convention proposals (due September 12!):

Census 2010

U.S. Census 2010 Race Question
The 2010 U.S. Census marks the second time people could choose more than race.

Census 2010
marks the second U.S. census in which people could mark one or more racial categories, with some news outlets (like this New York Times piece) providing sound bites that multiracial youth were the fastest growing demographic group over the past ten years.  But how do we make sense of this data and apply it to our work in student affairs?  In addition to utilizing this data, we must ground Census findings within the historical contexts of racism and monoracism that persist in our institutions of higher education and the changing cultural contexts that allow people the freedom to choose multiple racial heritages.  Additionally, we need to explore further how students make meaning of Census race questions, aggregated findings from the Census, the larger relationship between Census data and governmental resource allocation, and how Census data may be used to promote “postracial” ideologies.

The Politics of Space and Place
In the new edited volume, Contested Issues in Student Affairs, Kristen Renn and Lori Patton Davis contest the role of identity centers (e.g., cultural resource centers) in uniting and/or dividing a campus.  Indeed, one hot topic of discussion is where multiracial persons fit within monoracially designed spaces (e.g., an Asian American Cultural Center) and services (e.g., Multicultural Student Services, ALANA offices).  Should we create targeted spaces and services for multiracial students or change traditional models of supporting racially and/or ethnically minoritized students?  What are the potential consequences on campus [mono]racial climate?  Additionally, what are the best practices for advising mixed race student organizations within monoracially designed campuses toward coalition building and solidarity?  These questions should not just be relegated to students, but also to mixed heritage staff and faculty who attempt to gauge “fit” within institutions or departments (e.g., during a job search or on-boarding process).  In what ways can we mentor mixed heritage new professionals in helping to navigate new institutions that may not be as inclusive of multiraciality as their previous institutions?

Expanding Notions of Community
Just as we critique others for not being inclusive of multiraciality, we must interrogate our own practices within multiracial communities.  When we create spaces/organizations, how inclusive are we to the diverse groups that may feel included (and subsequently excluded) from our “community”?  As with any organizing around social identities, there seems to be a fine line between the benefits of having a safe (yet often exclusive) space for marginalized groups and the costs associated with excluding potential group members and allies.  With such diversity represented among mixed heritage persons, there is often a chance of unintentionally excluding individuals due to language (e.g., a “multiracial” group may unintentionally exclude someone who is mixed ethnically but not racially), outreach practices (e.g., targeting only people who self-select/identify on applications), or not recognizing our diversity (e.g., framing biracial as having two parents of different races, which might exclude multigenerational mixed race individuals).  At the center of this inclusion/exclusion issue is questions surrounding where transracial adoptees fit within multiracial organizing.  Although mixed race people and transracial adoptees often share similar experiences, they also have very unique experiences (see for example, Joy Hoffman’s recent dissertation on transracial Korean American adoptees). Is it enough for multiracial organizations to say they are inclusive of transracial adoptees (yet often maintain their mixed-race centered names)?  Would it be better for mixed race folks to support the creation of transracial adoptee spaces/organizations within higher education?

Intersectionality and Multiraciality
Multiracial Americans and Social Class
is a recent edited volume that explores the intersections of social class and racial identity.  What other intersections need to be further examined or incorporated into our understanding of multiraciality?  For instance, what are the implications of Alissa King’s (2011) recent JCSD article on “Female College Students Who Identify as Multiracial/Biracial–Bisexual/Pansexual” for our work with students or even our own self-understandings?  Why does it seem that more women are involved in mixed race organizing than men (i.e., what is the intersection of gender and multiracial identity)?  As mixed heritage persons within higher education increasingly work to claim space while also promoting fluidity of identities, we must re-examine the ways we think about supporting and creating a sense of belonging among such diverse communities and critically examine the language we use in our spaces and resources (e.g., biracial vs. multiracial vs. mixed; mixed race vs. mixed heritage; race vs. ethnicity vs. culture, etc.).  Furthermore, we may need to look at intersectional approaches to understanding student development to tackle some of these complexities surrounding multiraciality and involvment.

Re-Examining “Best Practices”
In discussing the politics of space and place in regards to mixed heritage persons in higher education, we must also look more closely at some of the “best practices” in our field and their inclusiveness of multiraciality.  For instance, intergroup dialogues programs (e.g., University of Michigan’s Program on Intergroup Relations) have demonstrated beneficial outcomes for learning about one’s self in relation to their social identity group and other groups.  However, in traditional race/ethnicity dialogues, we have heard multiracial persons feel “forced to choose” or excluded based on how the dialogues are set up.  This is similar to “affinity” or “caucus’ group exercises where people are split into different groups based on racial and/or ethnic identities, with multiracial spaces often being included as an afterthought only if there is a critical mass.  Here, we feel it’s necessary to repeat the question asked of Paul Spickard in his keynote address at the 2010 Mixed Race in the Age of Obama conference, “Is there groupness in mixedness?”  Any pedagogies or service-deliveries that hinge on groupness need to be re-examined through multiracial lenses.  Other practices that seem ripe for examination include, but are not limited to, multicultural student services targeting monoracial groups, living-learning communities for specified monoracial groups/issues, social justice education that excludes monoracism as a system of oppression, and counseling centers that may not be trained to provide services for multiracial students.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of “hot topics” around mixed heritage issues in higher education, but it’s a start!  Other topics might include the ways social media can be leveraged to support and or educate about multiracial and mixed heritage issues, the influence of famous mixed heritage persons (e.g., President Obama) on college students, and emergent issues related to perceptions of multiracial identity and integration.  Feel free to comment below with any reactions or if you want to add your own topic to be addressed.  And if you haven’t already started working on your ACPA proposals, we hope these might give you some good ideas to get them done before the September 12th deadline!


2 thoughts on “Hot Topic ideas for MRN-Related ACPA Convention Proposals

  1. Heather

    Hi there!

    Thanks for this post! I have been thinking very much about the concepts of space and place in cultural centers. As a new professional and a visible person of Multiracial identity on my campus, how can I support my students while finding support myself? Which leads me to also think about the meaning of affinity spaces on our college campuses. Where can I find people and places that are inclusive of my multiple and fluid racial identities? And how does this translate to other social identities of our students and staff?


    1. MarcJ

      Great questions! I think revisiting the meaning of “affinity” might be a great start. Look up the work of James Paul Gee on affinity identities and spaces, which may provide a different way of viewing your campus and the educational initiatives taking place.

      In terms of cultural centers, I think there is often an assumption that identity centers (based on singular social identities – like race, gender, sexual orientation – or singular identity groups – like African American or Asian American) are not inclusive spaces. A lot of great work is being done within these centers to build inclusion, especially as population demographics change or the missions/functions of the centers change to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. We know that the names of these centers might be a barrier, but I think encouraging your students to personally find out more information about and to give these spaces a chance, might be a great place to start. Also, if the centers do cater to singular identities, it is important to remember that some multiracially-identifying students might need that type of space to better explore an aspect of their multiple heritages and what that means for one’s overall sense of self.

      And for what all this means for translating to other social identities – well, that’s still up for debate. Although isolating specific social identities may be helpful for understanding how these identities develop, we all know that we don’t live our lives through isolated identities. Yes, theories of salience and power would suggest that some identities are more important to us than others, but we need to strive to find ways to integrate multiple identities into our work in student affairs. Recent research on intersectionality seems like a great start, but the challenging complexity associated with intersectional research may be even more difficult to apply to practice.

      Your questions are a great start to generating more discussion on these complex topics. Thanks!

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