The messages students receive from their schools are crucial to their identity formation. For many multiracial students, however, part of their identity often feels to be missing.
University of Washington College of Education student Gregory Diggs-Yang experienced that first-hand following his parent’s divorce.
Diggs-Yang grew up with his father in an African-American community, but soon realized his desire to identify with his mother’s Korean culture. After graduating from college, Diggs-Yang traveled to Korea and spent 10 years there, discovering his identity as a mixed race Korean.
While in Korea, Diggs-Yang worked for the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which supports mixed race Koreans and North Korean refugees. He taught English to students at Seoul National University and later trained teachers in English instruction. He also launched the MACK Foundation, which works with multicultural schools that are not supported by the government.
When he returned to the United States to pursue a doctorate in multicultural education, he found the UW to be the perfect fit.
“Other schools have multicultural education programs but didn’t have a specific multicultural education department or center the way we do here at UW,” Diggs-Yang said. “I started looking at schools that came along later, but when it all came down to it, UW was the one that I chose.”
As a fourth-year graduate student, Diggs-Yang specializes in identity development, part of the curriculum and instruction area within the multicultural education program. He intends to get a PhD to support his practical experiences with research and knowledge.
“I feel there needs to be more of a focus on [students’] individual and identity development,” he said.”That is where my work is focused and all the work I have been doing with the College of Education has been supporting that.”
Through connections made with peers and advisors, Diggs-Yang has been able to access innovative research opportunities.
“I was able to join a project with Dr. [Karin] Frey in looking at students’ identities in terms of friendships,” he said. “The relationships that I have been able to make and the connections they have been able to share, not only help me but so I can help others, has been incredible.”
Diggs-Yang also works with the UW GenOM Project, where he explores mixed race and identity formation. These experiences are preparing him to conduct research on supporting biracial identities and how they are developed.
In the future, Diggs-Yang wants to see mixed race Korean students explore their multiracial identity by taking them to Korea.
“Knowing who you are in terms of being mixed Korean in the States is very different from having an identity of being a mixed Korean in the other half of yourself,” he said. “There are some bumps that I experienced in that process that could have been avoided and some that I had to go through to get to where I am. I’m hoping to take students back and give them the experiences that they need.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications