What it’s like being a mixed raced student at university

We come across racial micro-aggressions everyday


Being mixed-race is great. I am a 19 year old Warwick university student of mixed Irish, British and Indian heritage and I feel thoroughly blessed to be part of such a number of rich and wonderful different cultures and nationalities.

A mixed-race family used to be something of an anomaly but now, as the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country, there are some social stigmas associated with being mixed-race. We are often referred to as being ‘healthy’ and ‘attractive.’

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In many ways, this could be taken as a compliment. However, in truth, is it possible that this glamorisation of mixed-race students is potentially masking the more serious racial micro-aggressions that we face every day?

This issue became really clear to me after just a few weeks at Warwick university. Here are just a few of the problems that mixed-race students might encounter on a daily basis at university.

A lack of identity

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My Mum and Dad are part of a generation where mixed-race couples were much less common. They met at university

Identity issues are some of the most common problems encountered by mixed-race students and we often find it difficult to explain our backgrounds to our peers. At times, I feel there is a lack of understanding over what it means to actually be mixed-race. Many mixed-race students, including myself, are often assumed to be black or asian when in fact, that’s not always the case. Because of this, it can be difficult to form an identity.

I might share my father’s dark skin and eyes, but that doesn’t mean that I identify with my Indian heritage anymore than I identify with my Irish and Celtic heritage. The truth is, we shouldn’t have to decide what race we are. That’s the beauty of being mixed! It should be possible to identify with one culture without rejecting the other.

‘So where are you from?’

This is the simple question that plagues so many mixed-race students and this became most clear to me during freshers week. In my own experience, the answers just never seem to fully satisfy other students.  When I told people I was from Leicester, I was often met with responses such as ‘no, I mean where are you originally from?’. This was usually accompanied by a confused look. To me, it often feels as though I’m being asked to justify the colour of my skin, which is kind of annoying. I mean honestly, I’m originally from Coventry, but that comes with a whole range of very different problems.

Explaining my religion

My younger Brother and Grandad (not the catholic one!)

My younger Brother and Grandad (not the catholic one!)

As well as our cultural and national identity, many mixed-race students also struggle explaining their religious identity at university. Within my own family, half being Irish Catholics and the other being Indian Hindus, there are cultural differences that I’m still working my way around. I was baptised a Catholic, but when I tell other students this, they often find it difficult to comprehend that someone who is of Asian heritage can be Catholic at the same time. Mixed-race students shouldn’t have to fit a mould other people think we should fit.

A lack of representation

Inspirational athletes and public figures such as Jessica Ennis and Zayn Malik have helped change attitudes towards mixed race people, not only at university but also in a wider context. But the issue of representation still needs to be addressed. Even at Warwick, a university with an international reputation that hosts students from all over the world, it’s clear there’s still a problem. Walk around a societies fair at any university and you’ll no doubt see a host of different societies dedicated to all kinds of different religions, nationalities and cultures from all around the world. But you won’t find a society dedicated to those of a mixed heritage, looking for a society that accurately represents us.

Stereotypes

My Irish family

The term mixed-race means different things to different people. Stereotypes associated with mixed race people are even clear at culturally-diverse and international universities such as Warwick. I remember telling one girl I was mixed-race and she stupidly replied, ‘No you’re not. Mixed-race people have afros and generally have brown skin with blue eyes.’

It needs to be acknowledged that the term ‘mixed-race,’ encompasses a vast range of immensely rich, wonderful and different cultures. It can’t be characterised into basic stereotypes.

A really really long name

This one couldn’t really be classified as a serious issue, but it’s still a pain. ‘Dhillon Purnell-Mullick.’ Fitting my name in the name section at the top of a lecture handout is one of the hardest parts of my day.

However I’m still proud of my multiple ethnicities

If this article makes me seem as if I have a chip on my shoulder I haven’t. I love being mixed race and I feel completely at home at university. I swell with pride when I realise the incredible stories and rich histories that led to my existence. I see my heritage as something that makes me that little bit more interesting and I love telling other students at Warwick university about my heritage.

However, it’s time we acknowledged that mixed-race students are more than just figures of interest. They are an ethnic minority with their own distinctive characteristics and experiences and they suffer the same issues that any other ethnic minority does. These micro-aggressions should be addressed at universities.