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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

New student group SWIRL provides welcoming space for interracial Carls

<ents with Interracial Legacies (SWIRL) is a new club on campus this fall. The club is run through the Office of Intercultural and International Life (OIIL), aiming to provide space on campus for students who identify as mixed race.

Justis Starks ’20, one of the co-presidents of SWIRL along with Denise Covington ’20, is a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow. Her research focuses on black/white/biracial self-identification, she said.

Starks said, “SWIRL is a cultural/intercultural group. We have weekly meetings, and we’ll do larger events like movie screenings or food events. We also plan to collaborate with other groups. We basically are a bunch of mixed people that traditionally don’t feel like they have a place.” She said that SWIRL aims to “provide a space for those people. And that’s who we are.”

Starks had the idea to use SWIRL as an acronym for the club. “Swirl is like a swirl ice cream; it’s a mix of things, which could be chocolate, vanilla or any other types of swirl,” she said. “So I thought that would be a good acronym and would be encompassing of multiple types of identities.”

Inspiration for SWIRL came during a retreat last spring where participants created sociograms by drawing circles to identify different races on campus, said Starks. “So these are the Asian people on campus and here’s the white people on campus and how they kind of interact, and no one drew a box for mixed people.”

Tyrell Floyd ’21, a member of SWIRL, who was also at the retreat, recalled how that experience eventually led to the formation of the club. “We were told to divide ourselves into groups based on our race, and then a bunch of the mixed race students, we sort of formed a little group for ourselves. That experience was very beautiful and it was comforting to have that space to talk in, and we wanted to expand that to an organization or a club this year on campus,” Floyd said.

Starks said the group submitted a charter over the summer and then started tabling this fall. “It’s been good,” she said. She added that through the club, she and other group members are “creating awareness that we exist and our experience exists, and kind of serving as solace and validation for each other, because a lot of times I think a lot of mixed people try to fit in either place or other places entirely.”

SWIRL is not the first Carleton club to address interracial identities. The club Mixed was active at Carleton, but “that’s since been dissolved,” said Floyd. “I think in the past Mixed was more of a group of students who primarily were Asian-American/white mix. And people who are black mixed with something or people who are Latinx mixed with something, it didn’t really feel like there was a space for them in that club. So this is just sort of trying to restart that process.”

Starks, who previously participated in Mixed, said that SWIRL aims to “address a wider range of mixed people, because most people who were going [to Mixed meetings], were Asian and white mostly.” Looking back on her time in Mixed, Starks remembers “looking for a space and being like, ‘Okay, do I fit in here? It doesn’t look like me.’” Meanwhile, “SWIRL is definitely open to everyone,” she said.

Denise Covington, co-president of SWIRL, also said that she hopes the club will create space for students who have not been represented by Carleton cultural organizations in the past. “Justis and I decided to start this group because we felt that our experiences of being black/white biracial people needed to be represented on campus,” she said via email. “We felt as though being black and multiracial needed its own space to address issues that other cultural groups on campus did not have the space for.”

SWIRL hopes to focus on issues related to identity, according to Covington. She said that some of the biggest issues that SWIRL would like to address on campus include “debunking stereotypes and stigmas associated with being multiracial, addressing colorism and beauty standards within the black community and how that interacts with the multiracial experience, as well as acknowledging certain privileges that coincide with our experiences.”

Floyd underscored the value of diverse, intersectional identities in the SWIRL community. He said that part of the idea of having a space where people with multiple intersecting identities can meet is that “the sort of discussions that we have in this space are designed to allow for people to share their very unique and very personal experiences. I think in that regard it can be used as a tool to also express how someone’s gender identity might influence how someone perceives their racial identity or those sort of things. I think the space really helps foster intersectional conversations.”

“Everyone is welcome,” Starks said. “You can come if you’re not mixed. That’s a big thing that I want to say. You know, I’m like, ‘Oh, come to SWIRL.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, but I’m not mixed.’ No—it’s cultural/intercultural. And probably everyone knows someone who’s mixed or has met someone and wondered about their experience, and so I think going to SWIRL and going to meetings and hearing from people that know that experience is the best way to learn and create awareness. So people that aren’t mixed, definitely go.”

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