Senior Starts Club for Multi-Ethnic Students

There are a variety of places to celebrate cultural diversity on Whitman campus. The Intercultural Center and certain clubs provide opportunities for students to take pride in their racial identities, yet Whitman lacks a space where students can examine what it means to belong to multiple cultures at once.

To fill this gap, senior Johanna Otico began developing the Mixed Student Union.

“I really wanted to create a space on campus for people of mixed race and other backgrounds to talk about their experiences and the issues that abound in the multicultural community,” she said.

When she came to campus, Otico had trouble fitting in to one place.

“When I first got to Whitman I wanted to get involved with the Intercultural Center, but it just felt so strange to focus on one of my cultural backgrounds and ignore another,” she said.

Photos by Becca Mellema.

The new Mixed Student Union met in Reid recently.  Photos by Becca Mellema.

Otico considered joining some of the ethnic clubs on campus as well, but didn’t feel quite comfortable at any of them.

“I was worried I wouldn’t be considered ‘ethnic’ enough, and upset because there really wasn’t a place for me as a whole,” she said.

Despite the fact that her racial identity is divided, Otico still identifies with each culture as a whole.

“When people ask for my ethnicity, I do describe myself as half-this, half-that. But in reality I am a whole cultural identity, and I wanted others who felt the same way to be able to express that as well,” said Otico. “I know very much what it is like to identify as hapa growing up in Southern California where it is fairly common, but I know nothing of other people’s experiences, and I want to learn more about the entire makeup of our mixed group and its heritage.”

Senior Chloe Kinsey, who is a friend of Otico’s, shares similar sentiments.

“I think we both feel that mixed individuals and families face a unique set of issues and challenges in our society, stemming at least partially from a lack of visibility and understanding for mixed people,” Kinsey said.

Listening to Johanna

Mixed Student Union members listen to each other’s stories.

Otico began organizing the Mixed Student Union last semester. She assessed how interested students would be and contemplated how to make the Union an exciting development on campus. So far, approximately 15 people have shown interest, and Otico hopes to have the Union recognized by the Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) next fall.

“One of the things we talked about at our first meeting was the ‘What are you?’ question that mixed people are often asked, sometimes by complete strangers,” said Kinsey.

Kinsey has encountered people who struggle to understand how she (being white) and her sister (who is adopted from South Korea) are related.

“Though mixed families are now incredibly common in American society and we even have a biracial president, mixed-race individuals and families seem to pose a challenge to many people’s concepts of what a family looks like,” said Kinsey.

Listening to another member speak about how they feel to be mulltiethnic

One of the Union’s main objectives is to open discussion about multiracial families in an environment where students feel safe sharing their experiences.

“I think people who identify as multi-ethnic/-cultural are often forgotten or excluded because they do not fit a set mold and I hope this club will help change this vein of thought because in reality we are a very strong, vast and diverse group of people. I think the most important facet of this club is the discussion it will encourage between people of all different backgrounds,” said Otico.

One of the Union’s goals is to conduct a bone marrow registry drive on campus.

“Race is an incredibly important factor in determining a bone marrow match, so mixed-race people who need a transplant often have difficulty in finding a donor,” said Kinsey.

Another goal is to create a space where students feel comfortable with their identities.

“I hope to embolden anyone who is ashamed or confused about how to identify with more than one culture or ethnicity,” said Otico.

Chloe Kinsey and Joanna

Chloe Kinsey ’13 (left) and Johanna Otico ’13 laugh as Mixed Student Union members share the challenges and fun of straddling multiple cultures.




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