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ACRL 2019 President's Program

Discussion, information, and additional resources for the 2019 ACRL President's Program. Opinions expressed by blog authors are their own and do not express the views or opinions of their employers or of ACRL.

Being Multiracial in a Mono-racially Organized World: What Does the Growing Interracial Population Mean for Academic Librarians?

by Hallie Clawson on 2019-02-13T07:00:00-06:00 | Comments

This week's post comes from Karen Downing, Tashia Munson, Marna Clowney-Robinson, Darlene Nichols, and Helen Look, all from the University of Michigan. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page.

A faculty member researching interracial families goes to the library shelf and finds that the books she needs are sandwiched between titles on incest and the criminally insane. She is unsettled.


A doctoral student is researching interracial identity for his dissertation and has a difficult time identifying mixed-race students to interview for his study because there are no student groups on his campus through which to call for participants.


These scenarios may seem like isolated incidents, however the accumulation of frustrations and the lack of an overall welcoming campus climate for many people of color is a daily reality for many mixed-race students, staff, and faculty in a world that revolves around mono-racial norms. The study of what it means to be multiracial in a mono-racially organized world is called “critical mixed race studies” (CMRS). Academic librarians should know that both the numbers of mixed-race students and of those engaging in CMRS research are growing rapidly throughout the U.S. A recent search in ProQuest Research Library on the terms “mixed-race OR biracial OR multiracial” returned 359 results in 1980, and 20,242 results in 2010-19.


Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S. — young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.

(Pew Research Center, 2015, p.5).

In its “Multiracial in America: Proud, Diverse and Growing in Numbers” study cited above, the Pew Research Center (2015) reports that the demographics of our nation are changing in remarkable ways. They found that 6.9% of all Americans eighteen years and older identify as being multiracial (p.5), a percentage larger than many mono-racial categories on our campuses. This trend will only increase: Pew (2017) also found that one in six marriages is interracial. As surprising as this statistic may be, the demographics point to a surging multiracial population in children under three years old, meaning that our campuses are seeing, and will continue to see, increasing numbers of mixed-race students, staff, and faculty. Are we prepared? Do we possess the cultural competencies to meet the needs of growing multiracial populations? The authors believe there is a pressing need to work toward a more nuanced and intersectional understanding of mixed-race social identities and how they may influence individual perspective, life experiences, opportunities, and choices.

Why Does it Matter?

The expression of social and cultural identities matters to people in myriad ways that are important to how we think about library collections, services, programming, and staff. While not every multiracial person will conduct research on multiracial issues, seeing one’s self reflected in the collections and programming within the library is important for any group or individual.


At our Midwest university, 1,800 students identify as “two or more races” in our current academic year (’18-’19). This is up from 1,200 in 2010. Nationally, in the 2016 academic year, approximately 3.6 percent of all postsecondary students identified as “two or more races” (Chronicle, 2018). On many of our campuses, there are no programs or student groups to support their growth and development as there are for other groups, and many of our collections are hidden due to a lack of standardized vocabulary to describe mixed-race people.


As more CMRS scholars enter the professoriate, curricular and research needs are changing with them. Stories of frustration and difficulty in finding authoritative mixed-race information are common. Health sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities researchers who are interested in studying topics related to mixed-race phenomena are stymied due to a lack of infrastructure that makes it difficult to identify existing literature, find research funding, have their research approved by Institutional Review Boards, and find and contact potential study participants. As researchers and research partners, this is a shortfall we in libraries need to address.

Resources on Interracial Topics

Each one of the authors of this post, being either mixed-race and/or interracially partnered, has experienced the difficulties involved in working with researchers of interracial issues. To ease access for others, we developed a few resources that can assist our users in the area of CMRS:

  • A research guide that facilitates discovery
  • Programming ideas that signal to your community that you have relevant resources and welcome them in the library.


These resources may also be helpful:



Chronicle of Higher Education. (2018). Students by Gender, Race and Ethnicity, by Sector Fall 2010 and Fall 2016. Accessed on January 15, 2019 from:

Pew Research Center. (2017). Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia. Accessed on January 12, 2019 from:

Pew Research Center. (2015). Multiracial in America: Proud, Diverse and Growing in Numbers. Accessed on January 12, 2019 from:

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