Growing Up as a Mixed Race individual
Faculty member Allison Henle has been part of the Suffield Academy community since 2006. She currently serves as the Waskiewicz Chair in Mathematics, a position endowed by a gift from Joseph Alsop '63. A graduate of Yale and Dartmouth, Allison is a self-described "math nerd" who gets excited when talking about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. She gave a great chapel talk on February 10, centered on Suffield's school theme of identity.
Allison grew up in Clinton, New York, to a Chinese mother and a Scottish father. Born fair-skinned with blue eyes, Allison always wondered as a child why she looked like her father but acted like her mother. "People didn't believe that my mom was my mom," she said. Allison didn't understand why this was until she took her first biology class in high school.
Allison's story as a mixed race person isn't just about the personal identity that she learned to develop over the last few decades, it's also about the interesting family history that led to her birth. When Allison's Chinese mother moved to America, she changed her name to Ginger (after the late American actress Ginger Rogers). Though college-educated, her mother was also strongly discouraged from studying math in the 1960s. Her parents were eventually married in 1966, a year in which 17 U.S. states still did not allow interracial marriage (the last state to allow it was Alabama when they changed their law in 2000). While the odds were stacked against Allison's family for many generations, she explains their perseverance simply by saying, "I come from a long line of adventurers and rule breakers."
As Allison began to embrace her Chinese/Scottish identity, she looked to other mixed race Hollywood stars like Keanu Reeves, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Eddie Van Halen for inspiration. "Like the characters in Lord of the Rings, I realized I had a choice on which side I wanted to live." Allison spoke directly to the mixed race students at Suffield and encouraged them to serve as a model for others, as she did for her friends. "We've come a long way in terms of accepting mixed race people," she said. "I love the fact that it's so common nowadays it's almost not worth remarking on anymore."