Macalester to host national conference

By Veronique Bergeron

This weekend, Macalester will host the Eleventh Annual National Student Conference on the Mixed Race Experience (NSCMRE). The conference will bring students from around the country to Macalester with the aim of “breathing more life into the movement,” according to organizer Danielle Sigwalt ’08. A lecture by Chicana feminist Cherríe Moraga on Thursday night kicked-off the conference, which concludes on Sunday. The conference includes a keynote lecture by Jen Chau, founder of the non-profit organization Swirl, Inc., which serves members of the mixed heritage community across the country. Chau is also the founder of the blog “Addicted to Race” and a former co-editor of “Racialicious” which discusses issues pertinent to mixed race identity in popular culture.

The conference also features a bone marrow donor drive, a panel discussion on sexuality, a discussion entitled “The Mixed Race in Science Fiction,” and several workshops on organizing grassroots activism.

The conference, which is held on a different campus every year, was almost entirely planned by students, according to Sigwalt. There were no specific guidelines for what kind of events Macalester would host, and as a result, this year’s conference features a diverse mix of panel discussions, lectures and workshops.

Bridges, the Macalester student organization for mixed race, cross-cultural and transracially-adopted students, is largely responsible for the conference. According to Sigwalt, several members of Bridges attended the conference when it was hosted at Pomona College in 2004. Sigwalt said that the Pomona conference attendees expressed interest in hosting the event at Macalester.

Jessica Masterson ’07 attended the conference in 2004.

“We were going to host the conference here last year but due to a lack of support and communication from the MAVIN organization, it didn’t happen,” she said. MAVIN is a national organization that supports the legal rights of individuals who identify as multiracial. Though MAVIN has been responsible for organizing the conference in years past, Masterson said this year was different.

“This year, the conference is not affiliated with MAVIN and comes organically from a need for mixed-race and trans-racially adopted students to come together and create their own space,” Masterson said in an email to The Mac Weekly.

This is the first time the conference will be held in the Midwest. According to Sigwalt, the event typically occurs on either the East or West coast.

“There are a lot of mixed race people in the Midwest, but there’s something about the culture that isn’t encouraging of people identifying as [two different races],” Sigwalt said. For this reason, Sigwalt said, the conference is particularly important: it exposes Macalester and the larger community to the issues that face individuals of mixed race identity.

“Even though our numbers are growing, at times we can still be seen as an exotic demographic, almost seen like an animal from a foreign land, and can be completely ignored by mainstream media, political discussions and civil rights,” Gaskin, who identifies as mixed race, said.

Masterson added that she would like to see the conference lead to a more permanent recognition of these issues for both the mixed-race community at Macalester and the college at large.

“I feel that we are a pretty scattered group for the most part and hopefully […] we can add an element of cohesion to our community that doesn’t really exist currently,” Masterson said.

Gaskin agreed that the mixed race community could use more visibility.

“Macalester students and staff who haven’t had much experience with the multiracial community can have a deeper understanding of the things we face, not just at Mac but in our everyday lives,” Gaskin said in an email.

“Hopefully, our community will get to see Macalester as a welcoming environment where mixed race issues are openly discussed and our students and related organizations can flourish,” she continued. “From talking to some of my colleagues across the country, just the fact that Bridges is hosting this conference is a strong sign that the organization and the institution have the support to discuss these issues and take them to heart.”