Speaker:University needs multicultural center

By Gus Bode

Identity of mixed-race students the focus of former professor’s speech

Growing up, Megan Hussey never had problems with her identity, but other people often did.

Hussey, a graduate student studying college student personnel from Carbondale, is half black and half white. Growing up, she said she has had several people confuse her for one race or the other, but she is proud that she is multicultural.

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“Even though I am mostly white looking, I don’t deny ever that I am half black,” Hussey said. “It is a place where you kind of get lost in the identification.”

Hussey was one of several in attendance for a presentation Monday night by former SIUC professor Kristen Renn about how mixed-race college students identify themselves.

Renn, an assistant professor of educational administration at Michigan State University, used information from the 2000 census to determine how many people classify themselves as being of one or more races.

She said in the census, 2.4 percent of the United States citizens listed themselves as two or more races. For people under the age of 18, that percentage is 4 percent. In other words, there are more mixed race people in younger generations.

“In terms of kids going in to college, it’s a growing number,” Renn said.

Renn has done several surveys at the schools she has instructed at, including SIUC, Brown University and Michigan State University. Through her studies, Renn has found that most of the mixed race students identify themselves as either multiracial or situational. Multiracial means of one or more race while situational means they identify themselves as one race or another depending on the situation they are in.

“It’s based on self determination,” Renn said. “You are who you say you are.”

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Jaleel Estrada, a graduate student in workforce education from Florida, said he could identify with the situational aspect of being mixed race. Estrada’s mother is Hispanic and white and his father is Nigerian and Egyptian. He said based on his environment, he can identify with different races.

“I have the ability to be in different environments and according to the situation, I can portray that image and get along in that environment,” Estrada said.

Renn said she feels that SIUC needs to have a multicultural center for students of mixed race origins to meet and share their experiences. She said many people oppose this because they feel it is a way of segregating students, but she thinks the students can learn more if they are in a more comfortable environment.

“I think that students would benefit from a physical place where they could go and identify with other people like them,” Renn said. “Students learn better when they feel like they can be themselves.”

Hussey agreed with Renn that SIUC needs a multicultural center. She said she would feel more comfortable if a place like this existed where she could go and meet people who have had experiences similar to hers.

“It gets to the point where there are so few of you that you don’t think about it,” Hussey said. “I think if there was a multiracial center at least you could go and meet other people.”

Renn has studied college students who were of mixed race backgrounds ever since she worked at Brown University in 1995 and 1996 when controversy broke out concerning an incident known as the “wall of shame.” The “wall of shame” was a posting outside a black women’s study hall that featured the names of black men who were dating white women on campus.

Renn held a discussion session for some of her students following the incident to get a student’s prospective on the issue, and found that there were some students who would consider dating outside their race, and some wouldn’t. Renn has been interested in the subject of mixed race students in colleges ever since.

“I was deeply moved by the experience I had with my studies at Brown,” Renn said. “This interest really came more from my work than from my personal connection.”

Reporter William Ford can be reached at

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