Relishing the taste of savory Thai food and freshly baked cookies, the members of MOSAIC launched Mixed-Heritage Awareness Week with a discussion in the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) last Sunday exploring how colleges perceive mixed-heritage students.
MOSAIC, an affinity group at Andover for individuals who identify as mixed-heritage, biracial, multicultural or multiethnic, functions primarily as a safe space where students can discuss and share experiences relating to their identity.
To recognize the value of cultures around the world and celebrate students of mixed heritage, Aya Murata, Faculty Advisor to MOSAIC and Coordinator of the CAMD Scholar Program, campaigned to establish the MOSAIC affinity group at Andover in the early 2000s. While Murata is on sabbatical for the Winter Term, MOSAIC is being led by Maggie Farnsworth, Associate Director of College Counseling.
Striving to welcome mixed-heritage students into the multicultural community and connect them with others who share similar backgrounds, MOSAIC was founded to accommodate the growing number of students who identify as mixed-heritage at Andover. According to The Phillipian’s “State of the Academy” in 2015, nine percent of students identify as mixed-heritage, whereas eight-and-a-half percent identified as mixed-heritage in 2014.
The title of the club, MOSAIC, serves as a reminder to mixed-heritage students that the various aspects of their identities are combined to form a whole individual, just as a mosaic consists of multiple pieces to form a design.
“All of us are mixed-heritage, and obviously a mosaic is a bunch of pieces that go together in the same way that we have different parts of identity that go together to form ourselves,” said Rosie Poku ’17, a board member of MOSAIC.
Samir Safwan ’16, Co-Head of MOSAIC, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Because MOSAIC is an affinity group, only students who self-identify as mixed-heritage can attend. By having a group of students who all come from a mixed-heritage background, MOSAIC allows for us to connect with each other on a more personal level because many of us share similar experiences.”
Upon joining MOSAIC, Julia Beckwith ’17, a board member of the group, said she gained newfound clarity about her identity as half-Korean and half-American. The club helped her feel more comfortable with being biracial and helped her explore what this identity means to her.
Beckwith said, “I joined MOSAIC as a [Junior], and I didn’t really know what I was getting into. It was just really cool, because I never really had a space to talk about these issues with other people that understood me and understood the struggle of not really fitting into a box and not really being sure of what to check off and being awkward at family reunions.”
While MOSAIC emphasizes embracing all parts of a person’s identity, focus is also placed on avoiding generalizations about different cultural groups. Rather, members strive to embrace and appreciate each part of themselves so as not to be limited into one category.
Poku said, “I think MOSAIC, as a group, is… a great support group for students of mixed heritage and that’s a great first step. Also, I think taking the time to talk to people about their identities and really listen to them is another awesome thing to do. Just trying to avoid generalizing people into one box, or one aspect of identity and allow that to overcome all other aspects of identity, and allow them to be multifaceted.”
“Growing up, I’d always solely identified as black,” said board member Madison Pettaway ’17. “Sometimes I still do say I’m a strong black woman just because it is the aspect of my identity that I’ve been most comfortable with. I’ve always been forced to choose one side, and so MOSAIC gave me the opportunity to embrace both sides and really be true to who I am and explore my racial identity in ways that I never did.”
In addition to promoting conversation about multiculturalism, MOSAIC club members are also responsible for coordinating and hosting events during Mixed-Heritage Awareness Week at Andover. The goal of the week is to better inform the general student population about mixed-heritage students and their experiences as people of mixed race.
“Within ourselves, we call it Appreciation [Week]. This week is very much just trying to get the greater community involved and get them knowing more about our side of the story because so often do we get lumped with bigger groups like Asian Society or African-Latino American. This week we want to celebrate our multiple identities instead of always having to choose one,” said Pettaway.
Board member Ian Jackson ’16 said, “We talked a lot about being of mixed heritage background in regards to the college process and how that affects it, and we actually got a lot of information because [Farnsworth] is a college counselor, and she worked for Wellesley [College] admissions, so she’s really familiar with that. Students asked a lot of questions about race, and if you’re biracial, some colleges take into account only one race, but some colleges have a separate section for biracial and multiracial kids. So we asked a lot of questions about that.”
In addition to the discussion regarding mixed-heritage and college last Sunday, MOSAIC also arranged a mixed-heritage display on the ground floor of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, featuring pictures of every MOSAIC club member. Club members hope this display will help educate the student body about the experiences of mixed-heritage students at Andover.
Farnsworth said, “It’s especially helpful for current students to walk through the library and see the display on the wall, because you’ll see some [about] the members of MOSAIC and also just their feelings about what it means to come from different backgrounds.”
Outside of Mixed-Heritage Awareness Week, MOSAIC meets once per month to discuss multiculturalism topics, such as the first time students realized the duality of their heritage and the portrayal of mixed people in the media.