What Does It Mean to Be Multiracial?

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.

Published November 8, 2021

Reviewed by Dr. Paige J. Gardner, Ph.D.

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What Does It Mean to Be Multiracial?

The number of multiracial people — those identifying with more than one race — continues to grow in the United States. The most recent U.S. Census report shows the number of people identifying themselves with two or more races increased 276% from 2010-2020.

With an increase in multiracial people across the country comes an increase in racial diversity within higher education.

Read on to gain a better understanding of multiracial identities, find ways to support multiracial students, and connect with resources that can help build your knowledge.

What Is Multiracial?

Identifying as multiracial means having two or more races within your genealogy. People who identify with more than one race also may use terms such as "biracial" and "mixed race" to describe themselves.

Racial and ethnic categories used on many population surveys include:

While these categories are limited, they do offer some insight into how individuals in the U.S. describe themselves.

In 2000, for the first time, the census allowed people to pick more than one racial category when identifying themselves. The 2010 census showed an increase of almost 2.2 million people identifying with more than one race, for a total of around 9 million. By 2020, 33.8 million people in the U.S. identified with two or more races.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2010, multiracial students made up 1.6% of all U.S. residents enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions. By 2022, that percentage is projected to be 3.9%.

Government surveys now allow people to identify themselves more fully, providing a more comprehensive view of racial identity across the country.

Understanding the Needs of Multiracial Students

We cannot simplify and group the needs of all multiracial students together. They have differing views, experiences, and backgrounds. However, we can provide some pressing and unifying needs that many multiracial students may share.

Multiracial students often require space to connect with others who share their unique identities. In some cases, having what some people consider a "privileged" identity alongside a "marginalized" identity may be a challenge for some multiracial students.

Acceptance and Belonging

Students of all racial backgrounds seek acceptance from a variety of sources in college, including academic departments, administrative and faculty offices, and student-led organizations.

Alienation on campus can contribute to heightened feelings of depression or loneliness for some multiracial students. Individuals who identify as multiracial seek communities that uplift their identities. Affinity groups that center on a singular racial background can feel discouraging for some multiracial students.

Campus programs and initiatives that center multiracial student experiences can provide an affirming space for students to build relationships and develop a stronger sense of belonging with those who share similar identities.

Organizational Support

Affinity groups, counseling services, and on-campus events create opportunities to meet the needs of multiracial students. But multiracial student groups will need resources, space, and guidance.

Proactive organizational acknowledgment can open the door to collaborative and inclusive resource-building between administrators and multiracial students. Administrators, faculty, and students must continue to familiarize themselves with multiracial students' needs in order to provide authentic support.

Resources to Understand Multiracial Identity

Learning more about multiracial identities remains critical to supporting all college and university students. Some resources to help strengthen your understanding:


Understanding multiracial identities supports the development of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. With the growing overall population of multiracial people, colleges and universities can expect to see an increase in multiracial students as well.

Meeting the needs of students who identify as multiracial requires students, faculty, and staff to strengthen their understanding of these learners' identities. Higher education must continue to evolve, providing spaces of acceptance and belonging for all students.

Feature Image: Tim Robberts / DigitalVision / Getty Images