For the first time, Multi, Occidental’s cultural club for multiracial and multicultural students, sent a group of eight members and nonmembers to the 2017 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference at the University of Southern California from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26. The conference brought together scholars, activists and artists from around the globe to explore the field of critical race studies with over 50 panels, roundtables, caucus sessions and performances. In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, which declared interracial marriage legal, the theme of this year’s conference was “Explorations in Trans(gender, gressions, migrations, racial) Fifty Years After Loving v. Virginia.”
After last semester’s Multi Week, Oct. 23 to Oct. 28, Multi President Miki Konishi (junior) noticed that Multi garnered increased attention around campus from students. Konishi, Khloe Swanson (junior) and Eushrah Hossein created Multi three years ago in an effort to provide space for and discuss the experience of multiracial and multicultural identities. The club meets bimonthly to discuss issues that multiracial students face and to provide a safe space to discuss the various factors that affect their identity. Konishi explained that, before joining Multi, he attended other monocultural clubs on campus and found it necessary to provide a space for students who identify with multiple cultures.
“In those clubs, there was a single lens where you could view culture and identity… with multiracial people there isn’t a solid identity formation that happens,” Konishi said. “It tends to be very conflicted and there’s a lot of messages coming out at us, so I think that opening up the space … where people identify with that struggle is important.”
The conference is held in a different state each year. Konishi said they were lucky to be able to attend this year in California with a sponsorship from the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB). Although the main focus of the conference is critical mixed race studies, the conference also explored topics such as gender identity, sexuality, mental health and multigenerational differences. According to the conference’s press release, this year’s theme investigated the root word “trans” in their exploration of interracial encounters through scholarly essays and performance art pieces.
According to Multi e-board member Hannah Schoenberger (sophomore)*, many of the students who attended the conference were impressed with the depth of study into the field of critical mixed race studies. She noted that mixed race studies are not often taken seriously. Konishi was particularly interested in the academic side of the conference and hoped to bring back pertinent information to Occidental.
“Oxy doesn’t really do any work with multiracial studies so this is a good source of personal info and academic information. As a critical theory and social justice major with a focus on critical race studies, this is of particular interest to me,” Konishi said.
Although the conference focused on those who identify as multiracial, Multi opened the trip to the whole campus, inviting students via email with a link to a Google Sheet. Joshua Harmon (senior), after hearing about the event through friends, was curious to learn more about multiracial people’s experiences regarding racial compartmentalization. At the conference, he found the environment to be welcoming and hopes to continue studying issues affecting multiracial individuals.
“I plan on looking into the significance of self-identification with regard to racial identity. Part of what I believe I missed out on in this conference was an analysis of racial ambiguity and the politics around an assumed identities, especially regarding mixed individuals that can pass for white,” Harmon said.
Alma Olavarria Gallegos (sophomore) went with an intent to focus on the scholarly aspects of the conference such as the research papers, yet found her favorite event to be a mixed-race performance art piece about a dystopian future focused on a sugar revolution. In the piece, climate change destroys the main crops, leaving only sugar as the source of nutrition. Only the wealthy can afford actual food. The sugar revolutionaries flavor sugar like different foods in an effort to inspire others to demand their rights to proper food.
“It was a really cool way to work with the future and to see how your identity can help inform your work and inform what you do,” Gallegos said.
Schoenberger noted that attendees particularly looked forward to meeting with fellow mixed race people from around the globe. For example, Konishi attended panels with researchers from England and Canada. Gallegos hopes to use the information she learned at the conference to empower the multiracial community at Occidental and connect with others outside of campus with similar backgrounds.
“We got to connect with multiethnic people around the world and researchers, and I ran into a multiethnic club from Pitzer … It’s really cool to build our own community and reach out to other communities,” Gallegos said.
*Hannah Schoenberger is photographer for The Occidental Weekly