College offers multiracial students the chance to have open conversations about race, allowing them to embark on a quest that is crucial in developing their identities.

When Sam Ho receives a form where he must select his race, he has a decision to make: Will he choose "white," or will he check "Asian"? The trick, he has found, is to alternate.

Raised by a Caucasian mother and a first-generation Chinese immigrant father, Ho, a junior at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, grew up in a multiracial household. Although he lived in predominately white Topeka, Kan., he was frequently exposed to his Chinese heritage. But because of his physical appearance, Ho finds himself identifying more strongly as a white man.

"My outward features aren't particularly Asian, and living in a majority white society, that's culturally just what has been around me for the most part," Ho says. "I think most people assume I'm 100% Caucasian, so I think the treatment I get from others is with that assumption."

It is those assumptions that form the early identities of biracial or multiracial students. But once those students are in college, they reach a point in their lives when they can have open conversations about race and are able to embark on a quest that is crucial in developing their identities.

"Your identity is not only impacted by how your racial group might perceive you, but how the dominant culture perceives you as a member of a different racial group," says Belinda Biscoe, associate vice president for University Outreach at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and an coordinator of The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). "Regardless of how we may see ourselves, part of our identity is also inextricably woven with how others see us."

For better or for worse, race still plays a prevalent role in our society, Biscoe says.

Take the "one drop" rule, for example, which suggests that if you have "one drop" of African-American blood, you must identify as black. So for multiracial students who grew up in two or more cultural worlds, they had to learn to define themselves in a society that was frequently asking "What are you?"

"A lot of the biracial students would hear, 'I'm not black enough to be black, and I'm also not white enough to be white, so where does that leave me?'" says Willie L. Banks Jr., associate dean of students at Cleveland State University in Cleveland and author of the study "Biracial Student Voices: Experiences at Predominantly White Institutions." "So that's always the conundrum. That's the question that's always addressed to these students: Where do you fit in?"

In the study, Banks explores the different stages a biracial student experiences in his search for identity, culminating in his self-discovery once he reaches college. It is here, he has found, that students could find their voice

Additionally, with the emergence of ethnic studies programs, students are able to meet other multiracial people who can relate to their journey.

"The reality is, an awful lot of times within university campuses, students don't have the opportunity to talk about race, just sit and talk with one another to hear each other," says Jeanette Davidson, director of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma and another coordinator of NCORE. "I think that is one of the benefits of having programs like African and African-American studies, or ethnic studies or Native American studies — that students can actually be prepared for the real world by talking about important matters of race."

But despite the programs and accepting social environments found at most schools, there are still ways that universities are disregarding multiracial students' identities. Ho, for example, must choose which race to select when "multiracial" isn't an option. By paying attention to these small details, universities can create a more accepting environment.

"Colleges and universities really have to pay attention to that," Banks says. "That's sending their message that they understand that it's just not black and white, but there's many shades of gray and brown and other colors in between."
Source:  USA Today /Taylor Lewis