Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Am I Black Enough?

“I feel slightly uncomfortable identifying as black”―Eric Tarlin

“Almost intimidating”―Jack Traina ‘21


Eric Tarlin and Jack Traina are two first-year students who identify as black, but do not phenotypically look black (AKA “white passing”). The purpose of my interviewing them was to get their feelings on if they felt the black community, particularly BSA, was truly inclusive to them and those black identifying individuals of a similar phenotype.


Their interview questions are as follows:

  1. How have you seeked to explore your identity while on campus? What challenges have risen?

    1. Musically, racially, ethnically, leadership wise, etc.

  2. Prior to your arrival at Harvard, did you plan on getting involved with the black community?

    1. If so, what challenges did you foresee?

    2. If no, why not? What lackened your interest?

  3. Do you feel comfortable openly identifying as black on Harvard’s campus?

  4. In what ways can the black community be more inclusive (or continue to be inclusive, if you think it already is)?


Both Eric and Jack expressed that they did not externally feel excluded, but rather had more of an internal struggle of feeling “black enough” to be at a BSA event.

When asked about whether or not they had planned to get involved with the black community before getting to campus, each had either thought about it or been put in situations where they had to decide. Eric notes that he did not explicitly contemplate joining the black community, but did scroll past invitations to join groups like “Black Harvard 2021” simply because he believed his privilege from “white passing” inhibited his ability to be a part of the group. Jack, on the other hand, states that he thought about his involvement in the black community a lot prior to his arrival. He acknowledges that he has not been involved with the black community and reflects his insecurities about his blackness.


A chapter in Mixed race students in college : the ecology of race, identity, and community on campus called “I’m Black-Monoracial Identity” exposes why college students of multiracial parents chose to identify with one race of one parent over another. The chapter gives an example of Mark, a student with a white mother and mexican father. His father was not around much for his life, so he grew up identifying more with his white relatives. In college he joined a predominately white fraternity. When asking why he was not drawn to participate in hispanic/latino organizations, he cited that “it just didn’t interest [him].” In school and on applications when there was the box for “hispanic/latino” he did not know whether to check it because that is what he was or what he identified with. This is relevant for my research project because there are many students at Harvard who may have checked the “Black/African-American” box, but not actually identify with who they are. This in turn affects their involvement in organizations.


Renn, K. (2004). Mixed race students in college : The ecology of race, identity, and community on campus (SUNY series, frontiers in education). Albany: State University of New York Press.


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