By Kelsey Eiland
The Mixed Ethnicities Student Headquarters (MESH) at UCSC is a registered SOAR organization that brings together students who identify as mixed to create thoughtful dialogue while celebrating diversity and creating visibility in the community. I spoke with MESH co-facilitator and active member Rebekkah Scharf about MESH’s mission and work on campus.
KE: Is MESH university-wide or only at UCSC?
RS: While many UC campuses have mixed groups, we are the only group called MESH. Other groups are called MSU (Mixed Student Union), but I like the name MESH for the (unofficial) MESHed potato mascot and “Let’s get MESHy” motto.
KE: What is the history of mixed ethnicity-based spaces at UCSC?
RS: I think MESH was the first mixed space at UCSC as well as at the UC.
KE: How many current members does MESH have?
RS: Last year member attendance at meetings fluctuated, but we had about thirty active members. This year many of them graduated and there is a new group of Frosh MESHies.
KE: How long have you been involved with MESH and what is your current role?
RS: I joined as a member of the unofficial club in 2013, my sophomore year. I joined as a general member last year in 2014, and decided to more involved with an officer position in 2015.
KE: What is MESH’s mission?
RS: The mission of MESH, to me, is to establish a safe space for students who identify as mixed, whether it be mixed culture, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Before college, I had never been a part of a space established for mixed people to exist as we are: mixed. It has always been having to choose one “side” or another. MESH is a space where it is acceptable for students to exist as both and ALL parts of their identity, not just either/or. More importantly, we talk about challenges as well as issues worth celebrating about being mixed, and discuss critically about what it means to be mixed. Since we come from all different backgrounds, what is unique about MESH is that being mixed means differently for different people. Having a safe place to discuss our differences as well as similarities is central to the mission of MESH.
KE: Walk us through a MESH meeting.
RS: [We] say “welcome” to everyone, introduce names and gender pronouns, and [ask] an ice breaker question. Once everyone has been introduced, leadership reports on upcoming events and updates for MESH. Before we start our discussion, we establish discussion rules and designate a “vibe-checker” to ensure the safe space of MESH. The discussions are led my MESH members and are predetermined at the start of the quarter.
KE: What initially sparked your interest in MESH?
RS: I was literally jumping up and down with excitement when I found out that there was a mixed ethnicities group. I had just read Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, a Stevenson core course book that discussed mixed race/nationality and language issues. It stands as my favorite book today. I had also written a very passionate paper about how I related to Anzaldua’s feeling of occupying the borderlands between two cultures, neither here nor there, everything but nothing, cancelled out into ambiguity. In the fall after I read this work, I also enrolled in a mixed race literature course for my literature major, taught by professor Melissa Poulsen, who dedicates her studies to mixed literature. That class stands as my favorite literature course at UCSC because we read Anzaldua’s work again, and I found many more authors to relate to. That quarter I also discovered MESH, and was able to bring all that I have learned and gained insight about to our discussions. It was also an invaluable experience to learn from other MESH members about their experiences of being mixed. I had never been in such a welcoming, safe, open space before, a space where everyone could relate to Anzaldua’s experience of occupying borderlands.
KE: Why are identity-based spaces important at the university? Out in the community?
RS: College is a time of identity crises: choosing a major and career path, discovering interests, and finding what you love. It is easy to fall into identity crises, concerning academics, family values, passions, and particularly for mixed people, race. MESH is a space to talk about that, especially in a society (and university) that reduces mixed people to checkboxes where we can only choose ONE race/ethnicity we are allowed to be.
KE: Do you feel like the university provides safe spaces to discuss, express and explore identity?
RS: There needs to be improvement, starting with changing the UC and related applications to allow students to have more checkboxes available and to choose multiple. There was a student who was turned down for presenting at a multicultural fair because MESH did not represent just one culture.
KE: Do you feel like students give each other the space to talk about identity safely and critically?
RS: It depends on which students. For me, when I talk to other mixed people about identity issues, they listen and provide a safe discussion. When I talked to people who do not identify as mixed, even my parents, it often hard for them to understand the things I tell them–the frustration of having to choose only one race and ethnicity on application forms, not feeling accepted by a group I identify with–because to them I might not be 100% “insert identity here”.
Especially as a Jew, what is interesting for me is that unlike many other Jews, I did not go to Hebrew school. My Chinese mother sent me to six years of a Chinese after-school program instead. While I appreciate having learned a different language, as a child I never felt 100% Jewish, even though my dad and his side of the family told me that I was. I did not go to Hebrew school or have a Bat Mitzvah, and that has been reason for my Jewish peers to say to my face, “You’re not really Jewish”. For some reason, this hurts more than when people have said that I’m not really Chinese.
KE: Why is MESH an important campus resource?
RS: MESH is an ethnic organization, but it is an ethnic organization for everyone, no matter what someone’s background might be. Because at the end of the day, everyone is “mixed”. People have come to meetings who did not identify as mixed, but leave the feeling identifying as such. It is a place where people can explore their own identities as well as learn about other’s experiences. In addition, MESH is a crucially important space because we can talk discuss race as a social construct, and the associated inequalities and injustices that arose for and because of the construction of race. MESH is a place to discuss race outside of ethnic studies courses, which not everyone has a chance to take. We also discuss concepts ranging from intersectionality, racial passing, cultural appropriation, microaggressions, and more.
KE: Who can get involved with MESH?
RS: MESH is place and space for open-minded and tolerant individuals to share deep discussions on race, ethnicity, and culture. We welcome anyone and everyone who would like to join our community.
MESH meetings are open to all students and are held weekly at the Bay Tree Center on the outdoor balcony. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.