Diversity Digest

Conversations about Race and Ethnicity: Diversity Digest (March 2013)


Working in Financial Aid, we assist students from all types of backgrounds.  Students vary in socioeconomic level, age, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, etc.  One of the very familiar methods of categorizing students is by their race; typically white, black, Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native or other. 

However, characteristics of what is considered a race have varied over time and according to social views.  First, race was used to describe national affiliation, then it described easily observed physical traits, and then in the early 20th century the word was used in a taxonomic sense, giving the word race a negative connotation for some.

As a person of ‘mixed race’ I have tried my best to navigate the oftentimes gray area that people of multiple ethnicities face.  I am a registered member of the federally recognized Navajo Tribe due to my mother and my father is Caucasian of English and Irish heritage.  When faced with items like the US Census or college applications, I would usually choose American Indian, but often wished there was a way for me to more accurately self-identify.

With the 2000 US Census allowing people to check multiple boxes for the first time, the data showed that people who reported a background of mixed race grew by 32% between 2000 and 2010.  The total population of such individuals in the US was reported to be 9 million.  By way of comparison, as of August 2012, there were a reported 17.5 million students attending public and private 2-year and 4-year institutions. 

In Financial Aid, the chance of us assisting a student of multiple races is sizeable.  Educating ourselves as to the challenges these students may face and how we can best assist them is in the best interest of our students.  NPR Host/Special Correspondent Michele Norris has created a website called The Race Card Project.  Please click on the link for an article entitled “When You’re Mixed Race, Just One Box Is Not Enough” to read some excellent conversations and thoughts of those who are mixed race or have mixed race children, inspired by The Race Card Project.



Melissa Garrett

RMASFAA Diversity and Multicultural Initiatives Committee (DMCI)



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