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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 28, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Race project| High-school counselor helps students cope with identity issues

School counselor Erica Mallin has helped teenagers around the state of Washington cope with identity for about 20 years. (Photo by Joshua Bessex)

School counselor Erica Mallin has helped teenagers around the state of Washington cope with identity for about 20 years. (Photo by Joshua Bessex)

The teenage years are about finding out who you are. This journey comes with pimples, the first crush, driving, first job, dances, homework and the stress of dealing with it all.

When students need help with these challenges, Erica Mallin is available. Currently a school counselor at Tyee Middle School in Bellevue, Mallin has worked with students for about 20 years with the goal of helping teenagers through “challenging parts in their lives. ” According to Mallin, part of these challenges includes trying to figure out the students’ identities and how those identities fit into the world.

Even with decades of experience in the subject, Mallin understands that the concepts of race and identity are rapidly changing. In 2006, Mallin began a diversity dialogue at Sammamish High School. In the dialogue, she discovered that more students were identifying as multiple races. While that opened up unique identity options for the students, it also posed problems as students began to contemplate what it meant to be “multiracial.”

This kind of description wasn’t something Mallin heard often when she was young.

“When I was growing up, [being multiracial] wasn’t really so much something we focused on,” Mallin said. “I’ve noticed when I’ve worked with students… that’s a harder thing to get at. Like what does [multiracial] even mean? Who are you? What is your identity?”

This feeling of confusion has led some students to be uncomfortable with their identities.

“I’ve heard [students] say, ‘I don’t feel like anything…I don’t feel as comfortable because I have this other thing,’ ” Mallin said.

She finds as the community has become more diverse, people do become more comfortable with themselves and their different identities. But when they are ready, Mallin recommends exploring different avenues of identity.

“It’s good to dig in if someone is ready to do that…and find a comfort with those [identities],” Mallin said. “And the more they are comfortable in their own skin, whatever their own skin is, then they will find that the struggle is diminished as they’re more comfortable with who they are.”

 

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