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Multiracial Students: Searching for a Voice

Multi- and Biracial Undergrads Say They Lack Representation on Campus

By Leondra R. Kruger

Like most of her 1,600 classmates, Kelly K. Johnson-Arbor '96 sat down one day in 1991 to fill out her application to Harvard.

She breezed through the essays and short answer sections but stopped dead when she came to one question about personal identification: "How do you describe yourself?"

For many of Johnson-Arbor's classmates that question is literally a black or white proposition. But the former Exeter student was stumped.

"Those boxes always annoy me," says Johnson-Arbor, whose mother is Black and father is white. "I check everything that applies-Black, white, other...everything but [Pacific] Islander, Native [American] and Hispanic."

For Johnson-Arbor, checking only one box would not only be inaccurate, but would hide a mixed heritage that she is proud to claim.

"I'm very happy about being biracial," Johnson-Arbor says. "I don't want to be just Black or white."

Johnson-Arbor is part of what many call an invisible but growing minority at Harvard: biracial and multiracial students.

Of course, just as there is no box on the College application form marked "Biracial," Harvard administrators say they have no official count of the number of students of mixed heritage.

"My impression is that there [is] an increasing number of biracial children," says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. "Biracial children are often straddling or integrating two worlds and represent in a way a cutting edge of racial relations because they mediate different racial communities."

But paradoxically, as the number of multiracial students at Harvard seems to be increasing, membership in organizations dedicated to their concerns seems to be languishing.

Though there is no definitive explanation for this paradox. Many students suggest that on a campus rife with fears of and discussion about racial self-segregation, it is difficult to hold onto two ethnic identities.

From the moment they are forced to select the appropriate box on their college applications, biracial Harvard students say they often find themselves under an enormous pressure to choose one identity or other.

Voice

According to E. Linda Maxwell '96, part of that pressure to choose comes from the fact that biracial students lack significant influence as a group in the Harvard community.

Maxwell, whose father is from Ghana and mother is a French Canadian of mostly Irish descent, says she identifies herself as being biracial.

"The Black students have their voice. There's a variety of Asian organizations, and they have a voice. Everybody has their voice," Maxwell says. "We're the one group that doesn't have a say."

In 1988, several Harvard students founded Prism, a group dedicated to giving biracial and multiracial Harvard students a voice of their own.

But lacking willing leadership, the group was inactive from 1992 until 1994, when Khalid K. Brathwaite '97 took command. He organized a meeting last spring that attracted about 20 students of mixed heritage.

Another meeting held in October was sparsely attended, and Maxwell says when Brathwaite decided to return to his West Virginia home for the spring semester, Prism again began to fall apart.

Maxwell, a member of Prism's executive board, says plans are in the works to revitalize Prism next year, and that even though the group hasn't been very active this year, it has succeeded in its most important task: raising awareness that multiracial students "didn't necessarily have to go to the BSA [Black Students Association] or not be involved in anything at all."

Though the people who attended the Prism meetings were of all different backgrounds, Maxwell says "one common denominator" that holds the group's members together is the feeling that they don't entirely belong in any other ethnic organization.

"They might feel uncomfortable [in other ethnic organizations] because they'renot fully whatever that population is," Maxwellsays.

When she has to fill out forms, she says, "Iput I'm Canadian of African descent. I certainlydon't call myself just white and don't call myselfjust Black."

Though Maxwell says she attended "a couple" ofBSA meetings when she first came to Harvard, shesays she didn't feel comfortable there. She saysshe has since decided "not to identify as one orthe other."

"Although I could probably just classify myselfas Black, I choose not to because both halves arevery important to me," Maxwell says. "I reallylook for the balance."

Numbers

Maxwell says she's not alone in striving tohold onto both sides of her racial heritage."We're a substantial sector of the population, Ithink--at least at this College," Maxwell says.

While Harvard administrators calculate racialclassification figures for Blacks, whites,Hispanics and other ethnic groups, they keep nonumbers on the number of multiracial students,says Senior Admissions Officer Roger Banks, whodirects the undergraduate minority recruitmentprogram.

But Banks says that, based on his ownobservations, he believes the number ofmultiracial students at Harvard is growing.

"Increasingly students are construingthemselves as multicultural rather than any oneelement," Banks says. "There are probably morestudents who would so identify than they wouldfive years ago, and certainly 10 years ago."

If the number of multiracial students atHarvard is, in fact, growing, it would reflectpart of a larger trend in the United States. Someexperts estimate there are at least one millionpeople of mixed heritage.

According to the National Center for HealthStatistics, the number of children born to oneBlack and one white parent has risen from just9,000 in 1968 to more than 52,000 in 1991.

Common Thread

Prism is not the only group dedicated toproviding a forum for the growing number ofmultiracial students at Harvard.

Common Thread, established last fall byUniversity Health Services (UHS) fellow Howard W.Brown, is a discussion group "for individuals forwhom one of their identifications is biracial ormultiracial."

Brown, a clinical social worker who identifieshimself as "a New Yorker, Black and biracial--notnecessarily in that order," began the group as away to explore issues faced by multiracial membersof the Harvard community.

"There has been a perceived stigma attached tobeing multiracial or biracial," Brown says. "Thebiggest challenge is ignorance."

But Brown says the "stigma" attached toidentifying oneself as multiracial may keep peoplefrom coming to meetings of groups like Prism andCommon Thread.

Though Brown put up posters announcing thegroup in the fall and received several calls frominterested students, he says only three, two ofwhom are graduate students, consistently attendmeetings.

On one Wednesday at 6 p.m., Brown surveys theempty conference room on the third floor of UHSand shrugs his shoulders.

"This is the first time no one's showed up,"Brown says, adding his patience to his list of thebenefits of the group. "One of the advantages of agroup like this is that it's my responsibility tobe here. I'm not burdened by silly things likepapers and exams."

And, Brown adds, Common Thread is neither asupport group nor an educational group. Rather, hesays, "It gives them a place to talk withoutpeople looking at them like they're crazy."

Mixed-Race, not Mixed-Up

Johnson-Arbor says she's talked to Brown onmore than one occasion--not to express interest,but concern about Common Thread's purpose.

"I don't think these groups are a very goodidea," Johnson-Arbor says. "It's just, 'Hi, I'mbiracial. I have a problem."

Johnson-Arbor, who is a member of Prism'sexecutive board, says the UHS discussion groupplays into the stereotype of the "mixed-up" childof mixed heritage.

Johnson-Arbor says she's no stranger to suchaccusations. Her mixed heritage has, in fact, madeheadlines: Her mother, a Black televisionpersonality, sued her father, a white businessexecutive, for child support.

"He kept saying he wasn't my father,"Johnson-Arbor says. "But there were blood testssaying he was my father."

The publicity from the case--there are picturesin Jet magazine of Johnson-Arbor as a toddler,holding the child-support check--alienated herfather, who did not speak to either her mother orher for years afterwards.

Johnson-Arbor met her father for the first timewhen she went to visit him in Chicago during herfirst year at Harvard.

Riding back from the airport, Johnson-Arborsays she was shocked by how much she resembledhim.

"All of a sudden, I was sitting across fromsomeone who looked like me," Johnson-Arbor says."He had the same face as I did."

But Johnson-Arbor says she has not seen herfather again since that first visit.

"He still couldn't deal with having adaughter," Johnson-Arbor says. "I'm not surewhether it's because of my mother or the fact thatI was biracial."

Even though her contact with her father hasbeen limited, JohnsonArbor says she identifiesvery strongly with being biracial--and sees Prismas a place to create a "social network" for peoplelike her, who refuse to privilege one ethnicidentity over another.

"I find myself very comfortable around biracialpeople," JohnsonArbor says. "There are so manypressures to choose one way or another."

Choosing

But not all mixed-race students choose tostraddle the line between two heritages.

Chris Lewis '96, whose father is Black andmother is white, says he usually identifieshimself as being Black and has been heavilyinvolved in Black student organizations since hefirst came to Harvard.

Lewis is a now member of the historically BlackMITbased fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, as well asthe Black Entrepreneur's Club and the BSA.

Lewis, a Cabot House resident, says he now has"very little contact with people of other races."

It's a big change from his predominantly whitehigh school in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he didn'thave many Black friends, he says.

"It was less segregated. Everybody just hung out all together," Lewis says of his high school. "At other times, it was a lot easier for everyone to be seen together.You tend to get to know everybody on a first-namebasis and it kind of breaks down the walls."

"When I came to Harvard," Lewis says, "myroommate was Black, and I met a bunch of peoplewho were Black, and I happened to hang out withthem more," Lewis says.

Furthermore, Lewis says, he was turned off bywhat he perceived as being the typically "white"social life at Harvard.

A member of the mostly white wrestling teamduring his first year, Lewis says he wasdisappointed by the fact that the team seemed tobe kind of "a social club"--a club whose favoriteweekend workout was drinking.

"I see that type of activity as one of the mainsocial activities of white people here," Lewissays. "Drinking or a bar is usually involved inpeople's weekend plans."

Lewis says despite the fact that most of hisfriends are Black, he still thinks Harvard'stendency toward self-segregation is "a problem."

"People have their choice of who they want tohang out with, and that tends to be a separatingfactor," Lewis says.

Unlike Lewis, Bruce L. Gottlieb '97, who is aCrimson editor of Asian and European ancestry, haschosen not to join any ethnic organizations.

But Gottlieb says just because he hasn't joinedan ethnic organization doesn't mean he hasn't hadto choose one ethnic identity over another.

"By not joining an ethnic organization, I'mconsigning myself to mainstream American culture,"says Gottlieb, who describes himself as lookingmore "Western" than Chinese. "I don't have verymany friends who are Chinese... The Chinese groupson campus do tend to stick together, and so in asense, I have had to make a choice."

The pressure to choose at Harvard is fairlycommon, according to Tammy V. Tai '98, whoseJamaican parents are of mixed heritage as well.

"I would definitely say [Harvard's]segregated," Tai says. "It's very obvious here. Ifyou don't find your own group of friends your ownway, you might feel pressured to join [an ethnicgroup]... [And] it's hard to be with the grouphalf the time and not be with them the otherhalf."

Tai, who attended a predominantly white highschool, also says the Harvard trend of racialself-segregation is new for her.

But Tai, whose mother is Black and Indian andfather is Black, Chinese and Indian, says she hasgotten around the problem by not choosing herfriends by their race.

"For me, anyway, my biggest thing at Harvardisn't about being part of a racial group, or whatit's like to be mixed or biracial," says Tai, whosays most of her friends come from the communityservice programs in which she is involved.

Even though she does not try to choose friendsof a particular ethnic background, Tai says mostof her friends are Asian. "I don't think Iconsciously do that," Tai says. "Who ever hasinterests that match yours--for me, that's how itcomes."

Kurtis I. Auguste '96, an Eliot House residentwhose parents are from Trinidad, says he has noteda tendency toward racial self-segregation--atleast in terms of the disparity between the numberof minorities living in the Quad and the numberliving in River houses.

But Auguste, a New Yorker whose mother isChinese and Venezuelan and father is Black,French, English, Spanish and Scottish, says heisn't surprised.

"I would expect nothing less from Harvard,"Auguste says. "People have such strong views abouteverything."

According to Auguste, Harvard is a home for"intellectuals whose voices are now maturing, andthis is the testing ground for those opinions."

Auguste, who was recently elected cochair ofthe Caribbean Club and has served as arepresentative for the Harvard Foundation forIntercultural and Race Relations, says he does notchoose to associate with one race more thananother.

"I feel no obligation to any friends of anyparticular ethnicity," Auguste says. "In New York,there's a Chinese person to your left and anIndian to your right. I'm not going to change mythought pattern because I'm at Harvard. I make myjudgments on personality rather than skin color."

The problem that Auguste sees is mainly"geographical"--that minorities tend to flock toQuad houses, while River houses are mostly"white."

"A good half of my friends live up in theQuad," Auguste says.

For Johnson-Arbor, it was fear of segregationthat led her to adamantly refuse to live in theQuad, even though her best friends from her firstyear wanted to live there. Because she felt"there's more diversity in the River [house],"Johnson-Arbor separated from her friends and nowlives in a single in Leverett House.

Emphasis on Race

For many biracial students, Harvard's tendencytoward self-segregation has a lot to do with anemphasis--or overemphasis--on race that isuniquely American.

Tai says because she was brought up by Jamaicanparents, she didn't grow up thinking about race.

"They didn't have the history of the wholeracial tension that went on in America," Tai says.

Like Tai, Auguste says his Trinidadian parentshas kept him from thinking of race as an importantissue.

In fact, when people ask him "what he is,"Auguste answers that he's "West Indian" ratherthan listing all the elements of his African,Asian, European and South American ancestry.

"I just say 'West Indian' because I'm so mixedup--it's not just a copout," Auguste says. "WestIndian' kind of takes care of everything."

Linda Maxwell, who comes from a small Frenchrural mining town in Canada, says she noted adistinct difference between the way Canadians andAmericans deal with race issues.

"Race is a constant issue [in America]. Itdoesn't just exist, it's a constant issue. There'ssome reason why it's always brought up," Maxwellsays. "In Canada, and especially where I'mfrom...race isn't as much of an issue."

E. Abim Thomas '96, a Currier resident whosefather is Nigerian and mother an American ofDanish ancestry, grew up in Nigeria and Senegal.

"Living in Africa, I noticed it was never aproblem, but I've noticed it is a problem here."Thomas says. "When you get a group of mixed peopletogether, you understand them and they understandyou. In high school, there were more mixed peoplethan anywhere else."

What makes Harvard different, according toThomas, is "a matter of how groups form."

"If I knew how they formed, that would resolvea lot of problems for me," Thomas says.

Thomas, who says she doesn't identify herself"along racial lines," does not belong to anycampus ethnic organizations.

Though she says she thinks the campus ispolarized, she hasn't deliberately tried to choosefriends from all ethnic groups.

"I don't think I try to strike a balance, notconsciously--but I like to think in the end I do,"Thomas says.

Thomas says maintaining her identity asbiracial is important to her.

"I'm offended when people don't recognize me asmixed," Thomas says. "Not to say that it's askill--but if it is, it's one that not many peoplehave."

Not Like a New Sweater

When Joshua D. Powe '98 went to his first BSAmeeting, a woman stopped him at the door.

"She said, 'I didn't know they let...ah...' Shewas struggling. 'I didn't know the meetings wereopen to people...That's very brave of you. Youhave a lot of courage," Powe remembers.

When Powe told the woman he was biracial, sheresponded enthusiastically. "She said, 'Oh, you'rebiracial, that's so cool,'" Powe recalls. "I don'tknow how cool it is. It's not like having a newsweater or something."

Powe, whose father is Black and mother iswhite, says his light skin, red hair and blue eyesmean that people usually assume he's white.

Because "it's not something that comes up,"Powe says that even many of his close friends"were shocked," when he told them he was biracial.

"One of my friends, who's blond and has blueeyes, said, `Oh, come on, how is that possible? Ifyou're Black, then I can be Black, too,'" Powesays.

Powe, who went from being stopped at the doorof a BSA meeting to serving as the organization'snew treasurer, says most people have difficultytelling what his heritage is.

"You have to be sort of astute," he says.

That astuteness is exactly what the many ofstudents interviewed see as missing from theHarvard campus--for one reason or another, manystudents are afraid to ask about others' ethnicbackgrounds and instead tend to assume.

"Usually people can't tell I'm biracial. Idon't look it. They just assume I'm white,"Johnson-Arbor says. "A lot of them are scared toask because it doesn't seem P.C. But I'm notafraid to say anything about it."

Johnson-Arbor says it took many of her peersthree years to realize that she was biracial. Whenthey saw Johnson-Arbor with her mother duringJunior Parents Weekend, they couldn't believe thatthe two were related.

"When she came to my classes, people would say,'Wow, that's your mother?" Johnson-Arbor says.

Cicely V. Wedgeworth '97 says people generallyact overly positive when she tells them she ishalfBlack and halfKorean.

"I've never gotten negative comments about it,"she says. "If anything, they go to the otherextreme."

Wedgeworth remembers in particular herexperience in a Korean class she took last year.

"People would be like, 'Why are you takingKorean?' I'd tell them I was Korean. My teacherswould be like, 'Oh, I didn't know," Wedgeworthsays.

"There was this one kid in my class. I said,'I'm Korean,' and then he went off: 'That's socool, that's so interesting,' that sort ofreaction. think it's just sort of stupid."

"It's not that big a deal," she says.CrimsonLeondra R. Kruger

When she has to fill out forms, she says, "Iput I'm Canadian of African descent. I certainlydon't call myself just white and don't call myselfjust Black."

Though Maxwell says she attended "a couple" ofBSA meetings when she first came to Harvard, shesays she didn't feel comfortable there. She saysshe has since decided "not to identify as one orthe other."

"Although I could probably just classify myselfas Black, I choose not to because both halves arevery important to me," Maxwell says. "I reallylook for the balance."

Numbers

Maxwell says she's not alone in striving tohold onto both sides of her racial heritage."We're a substantial sector of the population, Ithink--at least at this College," Maxwell says.

While Harvard administrators calculate racialclassification figures for Blacks, whites,Hispanics and other ethnic groups, they keep nonumbers on the number of multiracial students,says Senior Admissions Officer Roger Banks, whodirects the undergraduate minority recruitmentprogram.

But Banks says that, based on his ownobservations, he believes the number ofmultiracial students at Harvard is growing.

"Increasingly students are construingthemselves as multicultural rather than any oneelement," Banks says. "There are probably morestudents who would so identify than they wouldfive years ago, and certainly 10 years ago."

If the number of multiracial students atHarvard is, in fact, growing, it would reflectpart of a larger trend in the United States. Someexperts estimate there are at least one millionpeople of mixed heritage.

According to the National Center for HealthStatistics, the number of children born to oneBlack and one white parent has risen from just9,000 in 1968 to more than 52,000 in 1991.

Common Thread

Prism is not the only group dedicated toproviding a forum for the growing number ofmultiracial students at Harvard.

Common Thread, established last fall byUniversity Health Services (UHS) fellow Howard W.Brown, is a discussion group "for individuals forwhom one of their identifications is biracial ormultiracial."

Brown, a clinical social worker who identifieshimself as "a New Yorker, Black and biracial--notnecessarily in that order," began the group as away to explore issues faced by multiracial membersof the Harvard community.

"There has been a perceived stigma attached tobeing multiracial or biracial," Brown says. "Thebiggest challenge is ignorance."

But Brown says the "stigma" attached toidentifying oneself as multiracial may keep peoplefrom coming to meetings of groups like Prism andCommon Thread.

Though Brown put up posters announcing thegroup in the fall and received several calls frominterested students, he says only three, two ofwhom are graduate students, consistently attendmeetings.

On one Wednesday at 6 p.m., Brown surveys theempty conference room on the third floor of UHSand shrugs his shoulders.

"This is the first time no one's showed up,"Brown says, adding his patience to his list of thebenefits of the group. "One of the advantages of agroup like this is that it's my responsibility tobe here. I'm not burdened by silly things likepapers and exams."

And, Brown adds, Common Thread is neither asupport group nor an educational group. Rather, hesays, "It gives them a place to talk withoutpeople looking at them like they're crazy."

Mixed-Race, not Mixed-Up

Johnson-Arbor says she's talked to Brown onmore than one occasion--not to express interest,but concern about Common Thread's purpose.

"I don't think these groups are a very goodidea," Johnson-Arbor says. "It's just, 'Hi, I'mbiracial. I have a problem."

Johnson-Arbor, who is a member of Prism'sexecutive board, says the UHS discussion groupplays into the stereotype of the "mixed-up" childof mixed heritage.

Johnson-Arbor says she's no stranger to suchaccusations. Her mixed heritage has, in fact, madeheadlines: Her mother, a Black televisionpersonality, sued her father, a white businessexecutive, for child support.

"He kept saying he wasn't my father,"Johnson-Arbor says. "But there were blood testssaying he was my father."

The publicity from the case--there are picturesin Jet magazine of Johnson-Arbor as a toddler,holding the child-support check--alienated herfather, who did not speak to either her mother orher for years afterwards.

Johnson-Arbor met her father for the first timewhen she went to visit him in Chicago during herfirst year at Harvard.

Riding back from the airport, Johnson-Arborsays she was shocked by how much she resembledhim.

"All of a sudden, I was sitting across fromsomeone who looked like me," Johnson-Arbor says."He had the same face as I did."

But Johnson-Arbor says she has not seen herfather again since that first visit.

"He still couldn't deal with having adaughter," Johnson-Arbor says. "I'm not surewhether it's because of my mother or the fact thatI was biracial."

Even though her contact with her father hasbeen limited, JohnsonArbor says she identifiesvery strongly with being biracial--and sees Prismas a place to create a "social network" for peoplelike her, who refuse to privilege one ethnicidentity over another.

"I find myself very comfortable around biracialpeople," JohnsonArbor says. "There are so manypressures to choose one way or another."

Choosing

But not all mixed-race students choose tostraddle the line between two heritages.

Chris Lewis '96, whose father is Black andmother is white, says he usually identifieshimself as being Black and has been heavilyinvolved in Black student organizations since hefirst came to Harvard.

Lewis is a now member of the historically BlackMITbased fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, as well asthe Black Entrepreneur's Club and the BSA.

Lewis, a Cabot House resident, says he now has"very little contact with people of other races."

It's a big change from his predominantly whitehigh school in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he didn'thave many Black friends, he says.

"It was less segregated. Everybody just hung out all together," Lewis says of his high school. "At other times, it was a lot easier for everyone to be seen together.You tend to get to know everybody on a first-namebasis and it kind of breaks down the walls."

"When I came to Harvard," Lewis says, "myroommate was Black, and I met a bunch of peoplewho were Black, and I happened to hang out withthem more," Lewis says.

Furthermore, Lewis says, he was turned off bywhat he perceived as being the typically "white"social life at Harvard.

A member of the mostly white wrestling teamduring his first year, Lewis says he wasdisappointed by the fact that the team seemed tobe kind of "a social club"--a club whose favoriteweekend workout was drinking.

"I see that type of activity as one of the mainsocial activities of white people here," Lewissays. "Drinking or a bar is usually involved inpeople's weekend plans."

Lewis says despite the fact that most of hisfriends are Black, he still thinks Harvard'stendency toward self-segregation is "a problem."

"People have their choice of who they want tohang out with, and that tends to be a separatingfactor," Lewis says.

Unlike Lewis, Bruce L. Gottlieb '97, who is aCrimson editor of Asian and European ancestry, haschosen not to join any ethnic organizations.

But Gottlieb says just because he hasn't joinedan ethnic organization doesn't mean he hasn't hadto choose one ethnic identity over another.

"By not joining an ethnic organization, I'mconsigning myself to mainstream American culture,"says Gottlieb, who describes himself as lookingmore "Western" than Chinese. "I don't have verymany friends who are Chinese... The Chinese groupson campus do tend to stick together, and so in asense, I have had to make a choice."

The pressure to choose at Harvard is fairlycommon, according to Tammy V. Tai '98, whoseJamaican parents are of mixed heritage as well.

"I would definitely say [Harvard's]segregated," Tai says. "It's very obvious here. Ifyou don't find your own group of friends your ownway, you might feel pressured to join [an ethnicgroup]... [And] it's hard to be with the grouphalf the time and not be with them the otherhalf."

Tai, who attended a predominantly white highschool, also says the Harvard trend of racialself-segregation is new for her.

But Tai, whose mother is Black and Indian andfather is Black, Chinese and Indian, says she hasgotten around the problem by not choosing herfriends by their race.

"For me, anyway, my biggest thing at Harvardisn't about being part of a racial group, or whatit's like to be mixed or biracial," says Tai, whosays most of her friends come from the communityservice programs in which she is involved.

Even though she does not try to choose friendsof a particular ethnic background, Tai says mostof her friends are Asian. "I don't think Iconsciously do that," Tai says. "Who ever hasinterests that match yours--for me, that's how itcomes."

Kurtis I. Auguste '96, an Eliot House residentwhose parents are from Trinidad, says he has noteda tendency toward racial self-segregation--atleast in terms of the disparity between the numberof minorities living in the Quad and the numberliving in River houses.

But Auguste, a New Yorker whose mother isChinese and Venezuelan and father is Black,French, English, Spanish and Scottish, says heisn't surprised.

"I would expect nothing less from Harvard,"Auguste says. "People have such strong views abouteverything."

According to Auguste, Harvard is a home for"intellectuals whose voices are now maturing, andthis is the testing ground for those opinions."

Auguste, who was recently elected cochair ofthe Caribbean Club and has served as arepresentative for the Harvard Foundation forIntercultural and Race Relations, says he does notchoose to associate with one race more thananother.

"I feel no obligation to any friends of anyparticular ethnicity," Auguste says. "In New York,there's a Chinese person to your left and anIndian to your right. I'm not going to change mythought pattern because I'm at Harvard. I make myjudgments on personality rather than skin color."

The problem that Auguste sees is mainly"geographical"--that minorities tend to flock toQuad houses, while River houses are mostly"white."

"A good half of my friends live up in theQuad," Auguste says.

For Johnson-Arbor, it was fear of segregationthat led her to adamantly refuse to live in theQuad, even though her best friends from her firstyear wanted to live there. Because she felt"there's more diversity in the River [house],"Johnson-Arbor separated from her friends and nowlives in a single in Leverett House.

Emphasis on Race

For many biracial students, Harvard's tendencytoward self-segregation has a lot to do with anemphasis--or overemphasis--on race that isuniquely American.

Tai says because she was brought up by Jamaicanparents, she didn't grow up thinking about race.

"They didn't have the history of the wholeracial tension that went on in America," Tai says.

Like Tai, Auguste says his Trinidadian parentshas kept him from thinking of race as an importantissue.

In fact, when people ask him "what he is,"Auguste answers that he's "West Indian" ratherthan listing all the elements of his African,Asian, European and South American ancestry.

"I just say 'West Indian' because I'm so mixedup--it's not just a copout," Auguste says. "WestIndian' kind of takes care of everything."

Linda Maxwell, who comes from a small Frenchrural mining town in Canada, says she noted adistinct difference between the way Canadians andAmericans deal with race issues.

"Race is a constant issue [in America]. Itdoesn't just exist, it's a constant issue. There'ssome reason why it's always brought up," Maxwellsays. "In Canada, and especially where I'mfrom...race isn't as much of an issue."

E. Abim Thomas '96, a Currier resident whosefather is Nigerian and mother an American ofDanish ancestry, grew up in Nigeria and Senegal.

"Living in Africa, I noticed it was never aproblem, but I've noticed it is a problem here."Thomas says. "When you get a group of mixed peopletogether, you understand them and they understandyou. In high school, there were more mixed peoplethan anywhere else."

What makes Harvard different, according toThomas, is "a matter of how groups form."

"If I knew how they formed, that would resolvea lot of problems for me," Thomas says.

Thomas, who says she doesn't identify herself"along racial lines," does not belong to anycampus ethnic organizations.

Though she says she thinks the campus ispolarized, she hasn't deliberately tried to choosefriends from all ethnic groups.

"I don't think I try to strike a balance, notconsciously--but I like to think in the end I do,"Thomas says.

Thomas says maintaining her identity asbiracial is important to her.

"I'm offended when people don't recognize me asmixed," Thomas says. "Not to say that it's askill--but if it is, it's one that not many peoplehave."

Not Like a New Sweater

When Joshua D. Powe '98 went to his first BSAmeeting, a woman stopped him at the door.

"She said, 'I didn't know they let...ah...' Shewas struggling. 'I didn't know the meetings wereopen to people...That's very brave of you. Youhave a lot of courage," Powe remembers.

When Powe told the woman he was biracial, sheresponded enthusiastically. "She said, 'Oh, you'rebiracial, that's so cool,'" Powe recalls. "I don'tknow how cool it is. It's not like having a newsweater or something."

Powe, whose father is Black and mother iswhite, says his light skin, red hair and blue eyesmean that people usually assume he's white.

Because "it's not something that comes up,"Powe says that even many of his close friends"were shocked," when he told them he was biracial.

"One of my friends, who's blond and has blueeyes, said, `Oh, come on, how is that possible? Ifyou're Black, then I can be Black, too,'" Powesays.

Powe, who went from being stopped at the doorof a BSA meeting to serving as the organization'snew treasurer, says most people have difficultytelling what his heritage is.

"You have to be sort of astute," he says.

That astuteness is exactly what the many ofstudents interviewed see as missing from theHarvard campus--for one reason or another, manystudents are afraid to ask about others' ethnicbackgrounds and instead tend to assume.

"Usually people can't tell I'm biracial. Idon't look it. They just assume I'm white,"Johnson-Arbor says. "A lot of them are scared toask because it doesn't seem P.C. But I'm notafraid to say anything about it."

Johnson-Arbor says it took many of her peersthree years to realize that she was biracial. Whenthey saw Johnson-Arbor with her mother duringJunior Parents Weekend, they couldn't believe thatthe two were related.

"When she came to my classes, people would say,'Wow, that's your mother?" Johnson-Arbor says.

Cicely V. Wedgeworth '97 says people generallyact overly positive when she tells them she ishalfBlack and halfKorean.

"I've never gotten negative comments about it,"she says. "If anything, they go to the otherextreme."

Wedgeworth remembers in particular herexperience in a Korean class she took last year.

"People would be like, 'Why are you takingKorean?' I'd tell them I was Korean. My teacherswould be like, 'Oh, I didn't know," Wedgeworthsays.

"There was this one kid in my class. I said,'I'm Korean,' and then he went off: 'That's socool, that's so interesting,' that sort ofreaction. think it's just sort of stupid."

"It's not that big a deal," she says.CrimsonLeondra R. Kruger

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