Embracing Identities Outside the Box

By: Hayley Barrett

Chico State encourages all students, faculty, and staff members to treat one another in a way that reflects the integrity of life and allows others to express themselves without prejudice.

Multiracial students and faculty have collaborative identities. Dawn Frank and Brett Scott are examples of this. They are multifaceted in their contributions to education and they are multiracial.

Dawn Frank is an Educational Opportunity Program
(EOP) advisor.

Frank, 37, is an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) advisor. She is a Japanese, Caucasian, and African American woman who provides a comforting face to new freshmen and transfer students who are looking for someone to confide in.

When Frank was in grade school, she was told that, due to her mixed heritage, she didn't fit into a defined cultural background.

"It almost gives them a way to say, 'I just consider you white, I don't see any difference, I'm colorblind,' " Frank said. "I feel like folks of mixed race get that response more than people who aren't."

Frank now serves students by using her multiracial heritage to transcend cultural boundaries.

"Biracial people have to negotiate in many different roles," says Mimi Bommersbach, a faculty member and counselor at the Counseling and Wellness Center. "Being successful means becoming diplomatic when identifying with others."

Bommersbach, who worked with Frank during her time at Safe Place, a campus program for victims of sexual assault, adds that Frank in particular is skilled at seeing the nuances of life and presenting them in a way that people can understand.
Vicki Bass, an EOP advisor, has worked closely with Frank in the EOP office. Bass said students find a comfort in Frank's uplifting demeanor that she has learned from years of navigating racial bias. She has become a cultural broker, expertly navigating all aspects of identity.

Brett Scott doing homework
Brett Scott, is a senior double majoring in multicultural gender studies and psychology, witha minor in
African American studies.

Brett Scott is also navigating identity. He is an African American and Caucasian senior double majoring in multicultural gender studies and psychology, with a minor in African American studies. Scott strives to defy his cultural stereotypes.

In school, Scott challenges himself to demonstrate his intellect. He thinks that if he can be the opposite of the misconceptions against African Americans, then he will be of service to the black community. Kristen Mahlis, a multicultural gender studies professor,
appreciates his input in class discussions that demonstrate his awareness of the stereotypes surrounding black masculinity. He is well aware of how race, gender, class, and sexuality combine to create levels of oppression, she said.

When he tells people he is half white, he says he often hears that it would "only make sense." These types of comments discredit his strenuous work ethic and perpetuate a racially biased outlook that white people achieve scholastically, Scott said.

Scott has had to deal with negative comments since he was a child. In grade school, he was often the only person of color in his classroom. Classmates questioned him about his biological mother. Often, despite his mother's race, he was still seen as a person of color, which caused him to identify more with his African heritage.

"The world seems bent on categorizing everyone, so biracial people are usually forced to make some choice about that," his older brother, Jeremy Scott, said.

Currently, Scott identifies more with his African heritage, which bothers his Caucasian mother. "Our mother and her family hope that eventually Scott will be able to stand up to society and represent his mixed heritage proudly," said Jeremy.

People adopt different identities based on their environments. This can be a challenge to educators and students who find themselves in an atmosphere of predominantly one race. The focus of educators should be to create a framework in their courses that provides students with a safe place to assert their cultural background, said Mahlis.

Tracy Butts, multicultural and gender studies professor, said there is a level of fear when discussing issues of diversity because people don't want to say the wrong thing or seem insensitive. Conducting an open conversation about the challenges and advantages of being multiracial is necessary in understanding and better serving the culture of Chico, she added.

Students of mixed background may feel ostracized because they do not fit the same mold of their peers. Staff like Frank are an important example to incoming students about ways to negotiate their own multiracial identities. Having faculty and staff with a multiracial background can inspire students to choose their own identity, said Bass.