How Graduate School Helped Me Explore My Biracial Identity

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Taylor Swan

May 6, 2019

As a biracial woman identifying as both Black and White growing up in a predominately White family and community, I always knew I was “biracial” and that I had darker skin and curlier hair than my friends and family. As a child, majority of my friends were White and that was my comfort zone. I do not come from a very diverse town, and was not exposed to others that looked like me until I was older and moved schools. I did not feel supported to explore my Black identity and was not given the chance to learn what it means to me in any of the spaces I was in. It was never talked about amongst my family and with my friends I was always the only non-White person, visually, in the circle.

As a teenager I lived in fear of being “too White” to be around people of color and “too Black” for White spaces. I found myself constantly code switching to match the crowd I was in because I was unsure how to just be me, to be Taylor. When I finally realized that my friends and family will love and accept me regardless of how I show up is when I was able to accept the blend of identities that I hold, celebrate it and be authentically me. 

As an undergraduate student, I found myself sticking to what I knew and not tapping into the Black side of my identity. I was uninvolved with the Black Student Association, or the Black Cultural Center and did not surround myself with people who frequented those spaces. When it came to identity I felt quite lost. I had no identity space to call home, and also faced backlash from those that thought I should be involved with the Black-identified spaces on campus when I didn’t. People made a lot of assumptions about me and I even got accused of “passing”. Upon graduation, when I didn’t participate in Donning of the Kente, I was questioned. I never truly felt comfortable with the nuances of my identity until I entered graduate school. 

As a graduate student at Elon University, I entered a small cohort with few people of color and the majority of my classmates being White. Although, that is not something I thought about when picking a school. Since Elon University is a predominately White institution, I was not sure how people of color were acknowledged and treated on campus. I made a pact to myself to self-reflect and do some identity exploration upon enrolling in a Masters of Higher Education program. How can I assist students in this if I am not comfortable with it myself? Graciously, I found my people at Elon. I found a community of people of color and also multiracial students that understand a part of me that I have always wanted to show and to know more about. I surround myself with the most understanding group of people. I am allowed to be me, both the Black and the White sides. Although I may play a little too much country music for them, they accept me. 

I was excited to learn that multiracial identities are celebrated at Elon. We have an entire week of events dedicated to learn more about the stories of multiracial students. During Multiracial Awareness Week events such as a speaker who does research on flexible identities, a panel of multiracial and third culture students to gain their perspectives, a town hall for those identifying as multiracial or third culture to create community, a showcasing of a film dedicated to multiracial identities, and finally an open mic competition for students, faculty, and staff to share their stories took place. I thoroughly enjoyed the week and never have felt as supported in my identity than since I have come to graduate school. I have engaged in identity reflection within my coursework when telling my story. I have learned that it is okay to ask questions if I am not sure, because I do not know everything about identity. I have learned that I don’t need to code-switch in different situations. I have discovered that there is so much to me, and I have so much to offer. I have furthered my conclusion that being multiracial is difficult in a world that just doesn’t completely understand it. Finally, I have learned that it is okay to be me, Taylor. 

I am a Virginia native and a graduate of Virginia Tech but now reside in North Carolina. I and am a first-year graduate student in the inaugural Masters of Arts in Higher Education program at Elon University. I currently hold the position of Graduate Apprentice of Academic Advising. I have a passion for higher education and believe it can truly be a transformative experience, both inside and outside the classroom. I enjoy travelling, learning languages, netflixing, and being active (despite how much I love Netflix)!

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