Race a Sticky Issue on College Apps

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For mixed-race students, the question of how to state their ethnicity on college applications is not only complicated, but controversial. According to a recent New York Times article, many non-mixed minority students feel that mixed-race students are opportunistically embracing their minority background on their college application (which may qualify them for preferential treatment), even as they downplay it in their everyday lives.

Reading this story reminded me of my own school days, when I was known to check “American Indian/Alaskan Native” in addition to “Caucasian” on demographic surveys to emphasize my own thinly multi-racial background. (I am 1/32nd Mohawk; the rest is white European.) I thought my speck of minority heritage made me more interesting. I wanted to stand out against all the other Sex: Male, Race: White students, if only to myself. By my senior year of high school I had decided that checking both boxes was disrespectful to people who are actually part of a Native American culture and live somewhere outside of white privilege.

I still feel that, for myself,  when I checked two boxes, I wasn’t being completely honest. But, in general, it seems that America needs to get with the multi-racial program. The controversy of how a student identifies racially stems largely from our seeming inability to view race as other than a discrete value. Perhaps there are students who need to work on owning their multi-ethnic backgrounds day-to-day, but society needs to allow space for that and relent with the endless sorting of people into categories. The fact is that we are a mixed-race nation, but we are oddly disinclined to acknowledge it. Our president is a prime example of our strange hang up. How often have you heard Barack Obama referred to as the first bi-racial president? What gives?



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