Multiracial Students Grow in Number on Campus
President Barack Obama checked off only one race in the 2010 Census—black—despite his multiracial background.
He went against the rising trend of Americans identifying themselves as multiracial.
The number of Americans who identified themselves as being of more than one race in 2010 grew about 32 percent in the last decade, according to the 2010 Census.
The number of people who identified as both white and black increased 134 percent, and nearly 50 percent more children were identified as multiracial on the census, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
This trend can be seen even at the University of Arkansas, where the percentage of people who identify themselves as more than one race has doubled since 2009.
She leans back in the purple chair at RZ’s, legs crossed, coffee cup in hand. Black wavy hair escapes a messy bun, the wisps adorning her oval shaped face, set with almond-shaped brown eyes on light olive-colored skin. Around her neck she wears a keffiya, a black and white checkered scarf, native to Palestine. People often mistake her as Hispanic. Or Indian. Or Arab. Or Iranian. They can’t decide.
Nor can she. Or rather, she won’t.
Aisha Mahmoud, a UA senior majoring in physics and Spanish, is half Puerto Rican and half Palestinian. She is one of many students on campus who identify themselves as “more than one race.”
There are 608 students at the University of Arkansas, including undergraduates, graduates and law students, who identify themselves as “two or more races,” according to enrollment records at the Office of Institutional Research. This represents 2.6 percent of the total enrollment, double what it was three years ago in 2009
In 2009, 272 students identified themselves as two or more races followed by 372 the next year.
The University of Arkansas has no statistics before 2009, because the old definition of ethnicity did not offer an option for students of mixed race. It was not until 2009, when the federal definition was implemented, that mixed race was included as an option.
“I don’t know if it’s a change in the actual number or an increase in the number who identify themselves that way,” said Gary Gunderman, director of institutional research.
In 2009, there were likely a number of upperclassmen who didn’t update their information, but now, as the new freshman classes come in, they identify themselves as two or more races, he said.
Mahmoud came to the University four years ago, when the option was not available.
“Before I came to the United States, I never had to choose. It was just known that I was both. But when I came here, it was like you have to choose a side,” she said. “It wasn’t until here that I had to explain myself.”
Mahmoud was born in Puerto Rico in 1990. Her mom comes from a small traditional village in Puerto Rico, while her dad comes from a small village in Palestine.
Her parents met in Puerto Rico when her dad came there for college, she said.
Mahmoud spent her first five years in Puerto Rico. She learned Spanish from her mom and Arabic from her dad. Her dad soon got tired of Puerto Rico and wanted to move back to Palestine, so they packed up their belongings and moved to the West Bank for 11 years.
“It was very different compared to the Western culture of Puerto Rico,” Mahmoud said. “I was only five, so I quickly forgot about my life there [Puerto Rico] and started my life in Palestine.”
“Life in Palestine was great,” she said. “Yes, there was the occupation, but that’s not something we were thinking about all the time. And back then it wasn’t as bad as it is now. There were no metal bars at checkpoints, and people were nice when they found out we spoke Spanish as well.”
Her move back to Puerto Rico, however, was a culture shock, and it took her a year to adjust.
“I was always the ‘Arab cousin’ to my family in Puerto Rico,” Mahmoud said. “I didn’t really like it my first year back. I missed the food in Palestine and the culture here was completely different. Girls were talking about things I had no idea about or topics we never discussed in Palestine such as boys and make-up.”
In 2009, her family moved to Bentonville because her father got a job with Walmart.
It wasn’t until her move to the United States, that she felt she had to identify herself one way or another, she said.
“At first when people asked, I would just say I’m Puerto Rican because it causes less drama,” she said.
Especially after 9/11, she didn’t know if saying ‘Arab’ or ‘Palestinian’ would bring negative remarks so she avoided it, she said.
Now, however, as she has become more familiar with people and the campus, she feels a lot more open about expressing her mixed background, she said.
“I hate having to decide. I feel like I have things from both sides, and I like to embrace both sides.”