Kristen Renn*s Ecological Theory of Mixed

Bianca Boyd
Kristen A. Renn
Associate Professor in the Higher,
Adult, Lifelong Education unit of
the Department of Educational
Administration at Michigan State
Author of Mixed Race Student in
MSU’s Excellence in Teaching
Award in 2005
Associate editor for international
research and scholarship for the
Journal of College Student
Member of the Governing Board
of ACPA-College Student
Educators International
Aspects of the Theory
Focuses on both ecological factors that influence
multiracial identity development and the various
labels individual with mixed heritages use to
identify themselves.
Theory is based a off Maria Root’s theory that
identifies a number of external factors that
influence the ethnic and racial development of
mixed race individual.
Renn expanded and applied Root’s theory to higher
Aspects of the Theory
Renn conducted three studies
Examining both the identity development process
and outcomes, experienced by mixed raced college
students of various racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Developed her own ecological model of mixed race
Aspects of the Theory
She interviewed fifty-six mixed race students at six
colleges and universities in the eastern and
Midwestern region of the United States and
analyzed data obtained from written responses
from participants, focus groups, observations, and
archival sources.
Ecological Influences
Bronfenbreener’s personprocess-context-time
model (PPCT).
Person – family
background, heritage,
physical appearance.
Key to development is the
increasing complexity of
interactive processes in
which the individual
Context- the university
The University Context
The University Context
Microsystems – face to face interactions with
positive or negative racial overtones
Mesosystems of campus culture that sends positive
or negative messages including the permeability of
group boundaries and the desirability of identifying
with different groups on campus.
Exosystem – polices for identifying one’s race,
ethnicity on forms required by the college and
attention paid in the curriculum to racial issues.
The University Context
Macrosystem influence how students view race and
culture and their own roles in this systems as
influenced by their existing beliefs system about
individual with mixed race backgrounds.
Time (sociohistorical context) influences the
macrosystem. Renn pointed out that
Bronfenbrenner’s model did not display individual
development over time.
You Tube Video
Five Identity Patterns
Based off of Maria Root’s model using “border
Shows how students may use different ways of
identifying racially and many presented different
identities depending on the situation and context.
Single identity may not be possible or desirable for
mixed race students
All patterns are fluid, non-exclusive and healthy.
Five Identity Patterns
Monoracial Identity – students chose one existing
monoracial category (black, Asian, white). Easiest
for students whose appearance and cultural
knowledge were congruent with that identity.
Multiple Monoracial Identity – students used
multiple monoracial identities (white and Latino).
They have knowledge about each aspect of their
heritage or sought out more information in college.
They choose to label themselves instead of being
labeled by others.
Five Identity Patterns
Multiracial Identity – students saw themselves
existing outside of the monoracial paradigm
(multiracial, biracial, mixed). Shared common
experiences with other mixed-race students
regardless of heritage. This identity can be public
or privately held. Multiracial identity is used more
commonly on campuses with formal or informal
mixed race groups.
Five Identity Patterns
Extraracial Identity – students either opt out of
racial categorization completely or do not adhere
to the categories used in the United States.
Situational Identity – students identified differently
in different context. Racial identification is fluid and
contextually driven. This identity pattern depends
on the racial boundaries of campus.
Trends in Identity Choice
Women identified with more patterns than men.
Men were more likely than women to select one
monoracial identity.
Students whose parents were both people of color
were less likely to identify monoracially and were
more likely to select multiple monoracial identities
and situational identities.
Students with one white parent and one black
parent were less likely to select an extraracial
Additional Research & College
College is a major transition for mixed race students
because they leave their families (direct influence) into an
environment were peer groups become important. Not
being able to declare mixed race on application students
were just consider black and recruited for black
Students with ambiguous features were not accepted by
students of color or white students.
Being who other students perceived them to be based off
of their appearance and confirming to societal expectations
are two major challenges affecting mixed race students.
Benefit of Spaces
Structural Diversity
Encouraging Boundary Crossing
Split into groups of four and you all will be divided
in university division or specialty areas:
 Education
 Student Engagement & Programming
 Diversity & Inclusion
 Residence Life
Critique & Future Directions
Mixed race identity is fluid affected by context and
social influences and changeable overtime. To
support multiracial students and help monoracial
students understand experiences of these students,
educators have an obligation to raise awareness of
how the concept of race was constructed historically
and present alternative constructionist perspectives
that better represent reality.
Critique & Future Direction
Further research is needed to validate mixed race
Most research has been based on biracial individuals
of mixed black and white heritage.
Research has been qualitative and can not be
Most of the research has been focused on children and
adolescents rather than college students or adults.
Consider society’s treatment of and reaction to,
individuals of different racial and ethnic combinations
are not the same.
Drammeh, J. C. (2008, March 7). Anomaly: A mixed race documentary.
Retrieved from
Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S, Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A.
(2010). Student development in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schuh, J. H., Jones, S. R., Harper, S. R., & Associates. (2011). Student
services: A handbook for the profession (5th ed.). San Francisco:
Renn, K. A. (2011, November, 1). Kristen A. Renn. Michigan State
University. Retrived from
Renn, K. A. (2000). Patterns of situational identity among biracial and
multiracial college students. The Review of Higher Education 23.4,
399-420. Retrieved from