Mixed-Race Students Wonder How Many Boxes to Check


Multiracial students confess to spending sleepless nights worrying about how best to answer the race question on college applications. Some say they wonder whether their answers will be perceived as gamesmanship or a reflection of reality.

Aia Sarycheva, 18, whose father is from Sudan and mother is from Russia, will go to Yale next year on the strength of her grades in 12 Advanced Placement courses and an SAT score in the mid-2200s. (A perfect score is 2400.)

In the “Demographics” section of the Common Application, which is accepted by Harvard, Yale and more than 400 other colleges and universities, Ms. Sarycheza, who attends Stuyvesant High School in New York City, checked two boxes: black and white.

“I was aware that should I get into the college I wanted to get into, that there would be stigma around it — to put it bluntly — that I got in because I’m black,” said Ms. Sarycheva, who describes her skin tone as “coffee with a lot of milk.”

“The thing I want to convey,” she continued, “is that I didn’t check the box because it would give me some sort of admissions boost. I checked black, along with white, because that is who I am.”

Without clear guidance from the colleges, mixed-race students often turn to one another for advice, and their conversations spotlight how contentious the multiracial factor is in admissions.

On the Web site College Confidential, for instance, there are many streams of heated conversation on the issue.

At close to 3 a.m. one winter morning this year, a student from Germantown, Md., calling himself “Bigshot3008” kicked off a discussion with a question: “How do you guys feel about biracial (specifically half black, half white) students applying to college as full black, just to get our incentives? I personally think it should be frowned upon and that it is unfair.”

The incentives that Bigshot3008, who is black, was referencing fall under the umbrella of affirmative action, a principle to which most highly selective private and public institutions subscribe as a means of redressing past racial injustices.

In an interview, Bigshot3008, who would not give his real name as not to jeopardize friendships, said that he posted the question one sleepless night as he worried about whether he would get into the University of Virginia. (He did.) He said he knew biracial students at his high school who only embraced their minority side when it came time to fill out college applications.

One response to Bigshot3008’s online query came from “MarinebioSax,” who later identified herself to a reporter as Maya Taufete’e-Paguada, a high school junior from Memphis. Ms. Taufete’e-Paguada identifies as black, Latina and Pacific Islander, and said she had been thinking deeply about the ethics of the race question, knowing that she would have to make a choice on her own applications next year.

“Of course it’s unfair,” she wrote on the site in reference to what is now commonly referred to as “passing as black.” “But people will do anything to get that little extra advantage in admissions.”

For her part, Ms. Taufete’e-Paguada said there will be three boxes checked.

“I’ve always been taught to embrace my multiracial identity,” she said.

Though he will not begin his senior year in high school until the fall, Kennedy Francis Quay Edmonds, 17, of New York City said he already knows which boxes he intends to check on his college applications. He attends Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., one of the nation’s premier prep schools, and said he will present himself to colleges as part Asian. His maternal grandfather is Malaysian; his father is white.

“A lot of people said, ‘You’re just a quarter, that’s not enough,’ ” said Mr. Edmonds, a member of Mosaic, an affinity group for multiracial students at Andover. “But I feel like it’s enough because it’s very culturally important to me.”

Mr. Edmonds, whose Asian features are very subtle, added, “What’s important to me is that the college knows I have this other culture and experience in my life, even though I’m only a quarter. You can’t take everything at face value.”