(Me giving Fusion the thumbs up this summer - Fusion! I still love you!)
by Jen Chau
So, I'm the creepy alum who goes back to Wellesley, skips into the beautiful student center, finds the student organizations area and leaves a note in Fusion's mailbox. Fusion was the mixed group that I helped to create waybackIdon'tminddatingmyselfi'mprettycutewhat? in 1997. Yup, a "Hi ladies! Keep on fighting the good fight! Love, Jen Chau, Class of 1999." Well, I learned that this last note (left during my 10 year reunion this past summer) was probably never even looked at - this is because Fusion is no longer. I found this out during my visit a couple of weeks ago when I was invited back for Wellesley's Multicultural Speaker Series.
While this country's interest in mixed identity has been heightened in some ways, this same curiosity isn't necessarily being reflected on campuses. At both Wellesley and Tufts (also had a speaking gig there for their Asian American Month festivities), the mixed orgs have fallen away... It seems that neither organization has been active for at least a generation of students (4 years or more). And I was apparently the first speaker in a while to focus on multiracial identity on either campus. I was grateful to be at each place for these reasons and found the students to be thoughtful and eager to discuss what it means to straddle two or more cultures/identities at once. So what happened to the mixed groups?
Note: these reasons aren't necessarily independent of one another, but more often probably working hand in hand.
1. Turnover - Active Juniors going on study abroad and active Seniors graduating is a reality for all student organizations. However, because mixed organizations (from what I've seen) tend to have a smaller membership than other affinity groups, turnover becomes a greater threat to its survival. If leadership cultivation (aka finding those eager first years/freshmen and sophomores) isn't undertaken, it could mean the end of a mixed organization.
2. Lack of support - Once the org is gone, the need for it may be seriously questioned (hell, it may have even been questioned while it was around). In talking with the fabulous students and cultural advisors I met, I got to hear a bit of the real challenges with which they are faced. Certain students felt that because the organization is defunct, people now wonder if it was really necessary in the first place. And what happens when there are already so many organizations? "Ugh, we don't need another one...just be a part of what we already have." Of course. Mixed kids! Just fit into what we've got and stop being so difficult! The only problem is that "what you've already got" stinks. And in more mature terms, the existing orgs aren't always so accepting or ideal. Cue self gratuitous flashbacks of a younger wide-eyed Jen Chau trying to join the ASU and Hillel and being asked "Are you in the right place?" upon entry. Ideal, no. Not even close. The lack of support (on a student level and/or institutional level) for a mixed space is invalidating and discouraging to mixed student activists who want to get organizations up and running again. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the need to create a community for mixed race students. Maybe one day it won't be necessary because inclusion in all other communities will be a given. I'm eager for this day - but until then, mixed students should be encouraged to build what they need.
3. The need is taken for granted - I suppose this relates to the idea that we are living in a post-racial society. We've got Obama - and his mere presence has made everything better. Right? :) I wish it were that simple. Some definitely have the attitude that we don't have work to do anymore because we have a mixed race African American man in the highest office in this country. It's wishful thinking...but thinking that people have put a lot of weight behind. So much so that they have stopped working. I'm not sure how much of this is really at play on college campuses, but I did hear some venting about activism being dead. It's interesting - because Obama seems to be on "our" side when it comes to diversity issues (meaning, he talks about it at all), have folks been lulled to a comfortable place of not needing to worry about doing anything to improve our current situation? Add to this a full student schedule, I'm sure it begs the question -- If our President is validating mixed identity and other diversity issues, then maybe I can spend time doing something else? Studying? Participating in another student group? It's reasonable to need to pick and choose. I just wonder how anyone can think that we don't still have work to do... Maybe I'm wrong about this and college undergrads aren't thinking like this.
What are college undergrads thinking? If you are one, please chime in. I talked to a handful of students a couple of weeks ago, and I'm curious to hear more. Also, I am sure that things change a bit depending on where you are, geographically. Do you get support on your campus for mixed organizing? If you're a student leader of a successful mixed org we want to learn from your experiences! Tell us what's up!
And if you're a student who is trying to get things up and running again on your campus, let me know if you need support. I've met some great, energized students with whom I can put you in touch to share strategies. I'm also happy to coach you on any student activism related issues - pulling from my own experiences and what I've heard works best for other students! This sort of coalition building can really make a difference! To all of you student leaders out there - keep it up! What you do is so important.