Graduate Student Breaks Ground on Multiracial Student Experiences

by L Malik Anderson

Brittany Ota walks into the Center for Cultural Enrichment housed in Witte Hall, places her jacket on the shoulders of her office chair, sits her purse under her desk, and clocks in every Monday at 11 a.m. to begin another week of providing university resources and emotional support to students.

I get to work closely with amazing students, many students of color, through my work on campus. From which I learn and grow every day,” she said.

Ota serves as the supervisor for the CCE. In addition, she also works as and teaching assistant/ instructor and as the office associate at Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) department while pursuing a doctorate in the same concentration.

“My connections to this community are leveled and fueled in different ways,” she said. “Campus is home to my professional endeavors as well, I will be a Dean of Students one day, so having good relationships with students and staff helps me feel connected to campus and those goals.”

Ota first came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an undergraduate POSSE Los Angeles Scholar in 2007, graduating in 2012. She said college was the first time she thought critically about her racial identity.

Ota grew up in Pasadena, CA, a racially diverse area, with a Black mother and Japanese father. She has a twin who always reminds her that he is one minute older than her.

“I always knew that I was different but I always knew that I was Black too. Nobody ever challenged my Blackness,” she said.

Before returning to campus in 2015, she worked on her masters in Seattle and worked full time in Chicago. Ota said these places allowed her to see herself and blackness through different lenses because of the ethnic demographics of each area.

Both her undergraduate and graduate experiences were marked by student protest and activism. This led her to interest in multiracial college student experiences with racialized activism on college campuses.

14470602_10153734688581883_2166144222741812297_n.jpg“Being away from Madison was freeing. I went to China and Jamaica, I lost a hundred pounds, I did things I never did before, got engaged, and it was all amazing,” Ota said.

Returning to campus offered Ota a different perspective, she recognized some differences in the campus climate, but many similarities:

“Coming back during a time of protest was triggering for me. When I left campus the same issues were prominent which is both alarming and saddening for me,” she said.

Through her various roles, Ota provides spaces for students with historically disadvantaged identities to heal and also facilitates dialogues about campus climate. She said a lot her research has helped her when interacting with students.

“More and more I am working with mixed race students. They tell me all the time how much it matters to them that I am here and that I see them,” she said.

Research on multiracial college students explores processes of identity development, campus experiences, and the role of multiracial identity in student affairs and higher education. This research helps in documenting critical incidents, micro-aggressions, personal and social labeling, and exoticization.

“My hope is that when people ask about mixed race students in college my article is the first to come up as a resource and gateway to this history,” Ota said.

Until then, students are always welcomed to visit her throughout the week to reserve space, funding for food, to talk, or a hug.

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