Multiracial students speak out on campus
Published: Monday, March 15, 2010
Updated: Monday, March 15, 2010 16:03
The question of racial identity isn't always black and white.
Multiracial students on campus say that struggle for identity extends beyond stereotypes and name mispronunciations, according to the four student panelists who spoke on behalf of UVM's multicultural students at Harris/Millis.
"Since I came to UVM, I've become confused about my racial identity," senior Tania Khartabil said. "I don't feel authentic anymore."
The panelists all shared this feeling and expressed similar frustration in constantly being culturally labeled without acknowledgement of their mixed identity.
"There are a lot of prerequisites focusing on race [at UVM]," panelist Fredrika Wade said. "It really makes you address that you are a minority and it solidifies that you're one of the ‘other.'"
While the panelists said they agreed that communication is necessary to combat the negative connotations that some people associate with being multiracial, the infamous and insensitive "what are you?" question continues to create uneasiness.
"I think there is an undertone of racist sentiments just because so many of the students are white," Wade said. "They don't have a lot of experience with a multicultural population."
Panelist junior Luke Clemmons said he's heard the word "n---er" 13 times in casual conversation this year alone, mostly off campus, without the speaker recognizing it as offensive.
"It wasn't directed at anyone," Clemmons said. "It was white kids talking among other white kids, so they think no one will take offense."
"Ignorance is not an excuse," he said.
UVM is 92 percent white, and Vermont as a whole is 98 percent white, so there is certainly a normative culture at work, but recent publicity has got people starting to recognize a multiracial presence, Clemmons said.
"There is a complete lack of diversity on campus," sophomore Cassie Jenis said. "It creates an ‘other' among students on campus."
People have called her "mutt" thinking it was an acceptable term for a multiracial person, unlike "mongrel" which has obvious derogatory connotations, Wade said.
"People can be so hurtful," Wade said. "They don't know how hard it can be."
Instances of discrimination do happen, and this is something they have to live with, but thankfully these moments are few and far between, they said.
The Multiracial Students Organization, which was started last semester, hopes to lend support to those students who want to discuss their identity and the impact it has on their lives.
It's a step toward recognizing we are a distinct minority group, but it would be nice to get our own letter in ALANA, Wade said.
Despite some obstacles, the students said they were proud of their identity.
"If I wasn't biracial, I wouldn't be the person I am," Clemmons said.