Checking Two or More Boxes: Revisiting the ‘What are you?’ Question in College Admissions Practices

The MultiRacial Network is excited to receive current events, articles, and other happenings that involve contemporary issues on the complexity of Multiracial identity, especially when they’re forwarded to us by the one and only Dr. Kris Renn! The following blog post is a dialogue between Rachel Luna, our very own MRN Social Media Whiz Kid, and Heather Lou, Incoming Chair about A Multi-Part Question (Kiley, 2011)… hot off the Internet press from Inside Higher Ed.

Rachel: Hey Heather, the Common App officials said they were motivated to change the wording on these questions to align with the U.S. Census.  What are the pros and cons of this strategy from your perspective?
Heather: Making college applications similar to the U.S. Census race questions can be beneficial to familiarize an increasing population of multiracial students and their families in creating a consistent message of racial inclusion. The option to identify as two or more races on an application can be very positive as a paradigm to introduce to students, professionals, and faculty members as a gateway for discussion. The key to this is education. Education. Education. How can Common App partner with U.S. Census to educate students, families, and the general public about Multiracial issues? Two or more races is an option, but it remains hazy and unclear of how and why the option is necessary.

R: How do you respond to allegations that people are playing the “multiracial card” to gain unfair advantages?  Comments like this one (“There is also a concern that students might not be authentic in how they answer questions about race and ethnicity, seeking an edge in the application process by identifying as multiracial when they really consider themselves to be only one race.”) question students’ authenticity and motivations.
H: The race card isn’t something that can be played. I think for attitudes such as this, we should revisit the long history of racial oppression in America. A major complaint against implementing affirmative action in the 60’s and 70’s was that people of color were playing the all too famous and controversial “race card.” The meaning behind this concept is not to give people that identify as Multiracial unfair advantages, but to provide the space to claim an identity and the history of oppression, exclusion, and alienation in societal functions. Authenticity, in my opinion is the least of worries for student affairs administrators. It is, however, the issue if there is a presence of a Multiracial student population on college campuses and how such students will be supported during their tenure.

R: At the end of this piece, Kendall Reid-Webster says that this question is complicated because multiracial students may be exploring and struggling with this aspect of their identity.  What role should higher education and/or student affairs play in this area of students’ development?
H: Let us understand that Multiracial students are not the tragic mulattoes depicted in literature and attitudes internalized by the American public. Multiracial students, just as many other students with complex and fluid identities, go through exploration of their identities within the context of the environments they encounter. How can student affairs administrators provide space for students to explore their identities in meaningful and healthy ways? At the very least, the field of student affairs can begin to educate themselves and other colleagues about the spectrum of fluid racial identities. Renn’s (2004) patterns of multiracial identity, Root’s (1994) Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage, and Jones’/Wijeyesinghe’s (2011) revised conceptual model of multiple dimensions of identity are great starting points for student affairs administrators to become more familiar with this student population.

We invite you to share your thoughts and reactions to this article and/or pose your own questions using the comments section!

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Posted on September 26, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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