Profile: Sheena Gardner
With a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Gardner has lived in Japan and Mississippi, experiencing a world of two cultures. Her dark skin complemented by her long, thick and curly hair distinguishes her from most other people almost everywhere she goes. Her background of growing up in a military family exposed her to many mixed-race families.
Through the years, Sheena Gardner has become comfortable answering the question, "What are you?"
While awkwardly phrased, she understands what they mean, and the Ocean Springs native loves talking about it. However, many people still feel uncomfortable having serious discussions on race.
"We like to think we're post-race in the United States," she said. "But that's not the case."
Exploring differences and similarities between people has fascinated Gardner for much of her life. Her blend of curiosity and personal background makes sense of Gardner's decision to study sociology.
Now working on her doctorate at Mississippi State, she organized the nation's fifth chapter of Swirl, an organization that challenges the idea of race through community building, education and volunteering. It brings together people who share a mixed heritage. Swirl works to achieve more openness and a greater appreciation of people. Experts say that as more people get to know each other, many barriers that divide people disappear.
"Having personal, close connections is how you break down stereotypes and bigotry," Gardner said.
Gardner will use research from Starkville's chapter of Swirl for her dissertation, which looks at how multi-racial identities form through people's actions
A naturally inquisitive person, Gardner said she loves learning how people interact.
"I've always found people interesting," she said. "I'm a people watcher."
Next week … J.W. and Lori Bruce !