College is a time of self-discovery for many students. Whether it be through interacting with others who share similar experiences or through meeting those who have grown up in entirely different environments, we as college students are constantly understanding more about ourselves — and challenging how we want to define our respective identities.
One particular facet of this self-discovery is cultural identity. This can be a complicated thing to define — encompassing everything from race to religion to nationality. Each student’s life experience is unique to them; for those from culturally homogenous towns and those who grew up in places more diverse than Wellesley, engaging with the College’s multicultural community leads to students’ better understanding of their own identity. Involvement with cultural organizations on campus can function as a catalyst for self-discovery. Being a part of a group of people a student can bond with, over similar meals or shared holidays alike can validate the student’s experiences in a way they may never have known before. But how does this experience change for mixed race students?
I have been a member of Fusion, Wellesley’s mixed race organization, for the entirety of my time in college: first as its Web and Social Media Director, then as the Vice President, and finally as the President in my junior year. While I was accepted by both of the cultural organizations that align with my mixed identity, there was always a part of my cultural and racial experience that I did not share with the other members. I wanted to find a place where I could share in the feeling of not fully culturally-belonging. Not only did I want to be apart of a group who shared my cultural background, but I also wanted to find a community who knew how complex one’s cultural background can be and how larger cultural organizations can sometimes overlook such complexities.
However, upon joining and eventually leading Fusion, I found that very few people wanted to be apart of this organization. Given my interactions with the people on this campus, I have no doubt that there is a significant population of students who identify as mixed. Why, then, was it always a struggle to get an attendance of even five students at any given Fusion event? Was there a difference between Fusion and the other cultural organizations that don’t seem to face the same attendance problems?
It might be true that scheduling conflicts restrict mixed students from staying active in what may be their third cultural org. But it is important to note that this phenomenon can be a direct manifestation of the insecurities of a mixed person. We, as mixed people, have always wished to belong to one of our cultural identities just as our monocultured peers have been able to. We have always hidden parts of ourselves away so as to appear “fully” some identity. We have simplified our identity to disassociate ourselves from our mixed heritage to prevent the need to defend the validity of our identities. Joining Fusion may feel like we are conceding to our cultural uniqueness.
In speaking with Isabella Roberts ’21, the current president of Fusion, we reflected on our shared struggle of popularizing the organization on campus. We share the belief that mixed students have to engage with their identity differently than the rest of the school. It’s difficult making the same racial or cultural self discoveries when one is juggling two or more identities. So to make it easier on ourselves, we choose one, perhaps the one we know the most about, and claim it as our only identity.
Alternatively, some mixed students choose to become acultural. We realize that our ability to connect with a multitude of identities is not a dissociation from monoculturalism but an additional and equally important perspective. We are not destined for loneliness, but embrace our unique identity as something to enhance the campus in its own right. This conclusion, however, takes time and maturity and is a lot harder to embody than the former choice.
The final potential roadblock barring Fusion from success at Wellesley is how monocultural orgs engage with their race or culture’s identity. Single culture orgs often intensify racial or cultural stereotypes. In doing so, they create a hierarchy of who is the most authentic to that identity. This hierarchy is often built upon who can speak the language, how a member looks, or where they were born. It is the production of these structures that prevent mixed students, or quite frankly anyone who deviates from these strict norms, from truly feeling like they belong. For it is mixed people whose identity lies adjacent to, not within the bounds of such stereotypes. As a result, it becomes hard for us ever feel like we deserve to identify with the cultural organization we often times so desperately want to belong to.
In my tenure in Fusion, it is clear to me that the idea of identity on this campus must change. We cannot mold our identities into the stereotypes that have been assigned to us by the more privileged members of our community. We must understand that cultural identity is often complex, and realize that our identity is strengthened by its differences rather than how we are similar.