Penn State Biracial Discussion Group Allows Students To Share Experiences

Penn State Biracial Discussion Group Allows Students To Share Experiences

News from the Penn State Department of Public Information (10-15-98)

Penn State Biracial Discussion Group Allows Students To Share Experiences

University Park, Pa. — When somebody gives Jungmiwha Bullock a rainbow Skittles candy wrapper, she tapes it with the others hanging on a wall in her residence hall room at Penn State. The colorful wrappers — some green, some purple, others orange or red — seem to reflect this student’s pride in her biracial identity.

Bullock, who goes by the nickname “Jummy,” is the daughter of an African American father and Korean mother. She is also a member of BOTH — Blends of Traditional Heritages — an educational discussion group developed by Penn State’s Multicultural Resource Center and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for biracial students who share a common African heritage.

She comes from Baltimore, her father’s hometown, and cherishes her community’s acceptance of diversity. Bullock’s African American relatives always acknowledged her and her three brothers as the first biracial children in their family. Moving to Penn State made her realize that not everybody understood her heritage. She became the target of racial insults and had to deal with the comments of well-meaning strangers.

“Back home, we could talk about race. It meant nothing. But when I came here, the picture changed,” says Bullock, a junior advertising and marketing major. “My first semester at Penn State, my three White roommates said they never had a colored person for a roommate. They all came from different parts of the country but their attitudes were the same.”

Like Bullock, the other 17 students in BOTH and the many who are not involved in the group are forced to confront their multiracial heritage once they arrive at Penn State, say the group’s facilitators. Once away from a protective home environment, these students often feel like they have to identify with only one race — such a decision, though, means rejecting one of their parents. They discover that White students want to pigeonhole them into a narrow category.

While BOTH won’t turn away students not of African American descent, its main goal is to help those who are, and the organization is looking for more students to join. Most of the group’s participants confront a dilemma that goes back to the days of slavery in the United States, when the ‘one-drop rule’ was in effect — anybody with one drop of Black blood was considered African American and prevented from moving ahead.

“A lot of what we focus on is relative to our country’s history of slavery and discrimination against Blacks,” says Diane Farnsworth, a counselor with the Multicultural Resource Center and co-facilitator of BOTH. “Skin color is an issue in our society and can be a point of contention for biracial students when they first make friends at Penn State or adjust to the campus community at large.”

Twice a week, BOTH members meet with Farnsworth and co-facilitator D’Andre Wilson, a predoctoral intern in counseling psychology. The group reads the latest articles on biracial groups, watches videos addressing this issue, and talks about their expectations with dating, discrimination, family relations, and society’s expectations. BOTH members consider the group as a safe haven where they can meet others like themselves and learn that they’re not alone. They accept that other members have different backgrounds, opinions, and community connections.

Bullock says Black and Asian races become one in her. Her heritage plays a role in everything from school projects to discussing race issues with the students for whom she serves as a resident assistant. Moreover, she describes BOTH members as high achievers who come from stable families and have high self-esteem.

“I love being biracial,” she adds. “We bring something to the table the majority of the population never can.”

For more information on BOTH, contact Diane Farnsworth at 814-865-1773 or at dgf1@psu.edu.

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