IHouse CLG workshop: Identify Yourself and Understand Others

Author name
Lizzy Huang

Have you ever thought about your identity? Do you think you are often stereotyped as someone from a group that you are thought to belong to? I think many people do not notice these identity questions until they are out of their comfort zone and they feel they get misunderstood; at least I have been exploring these questions since I am away from home. I wish I would learn more about myself and the perspectives from others from the “Identity” workshop this Thursday. The workshop was hosted by Assistant Director Paige Vinson. Our guest host Mr. Tyrone Jean, Assistant Director of Duke Center of Multicultural Affairs, tried to guide us to understand identity through some group activities.

Share Your Stories
“What categories will you think of to describe a person’s identity?” We can identify a person using “name”, “age”, “nationality”, “gender”, “race”, things that are placed on that person. We can also identify a person using “profession”, “value”, “education”, “culture”, “religion”, something that a person chooses. The first part of the workshop, participants were encouraged to introduce themselves to their neighbors using these categories. When we listened to stories from others, we realized some identities that we ascribed to our partners based on their physical appearances were not true. We might reconsider whether the standard we used to gauge others was the right one due to the complexity of identities.

Forced Choice
There were 12 identity markers on the wall, including “disability/ability”, “age”,  “gender”, “race”, as well as “education”, “culture”, “religion”, “socioeconomic status” and “political affiliation”. After each statement about identity from Mr. Jean, participants were asked to pick only one identity marker. Mr. Jean’s statements included “The part of the identity that I’m most/least aware of in a daily basis”, “The part of the identity that I’m mostly proud of”, etc. It was a tough choice and according to Mr. Jean, “everybody all wished to have 8 legs to stand in front of more than one choices”. After participants finished choosing their “favorite” ones, they were asked to share why they made such a choice. When asked the identity that you would like to explore more, an Armenian student mentioned that he would like to explore more about religion and spirituality because he’s not religious but people in his country is commonly religious; he wanted to know more about the culture of his country. The statement about the part of the identity that you think you are misunderstood most led to the most discussion. A visiting scholar from China said she would be mistaken as Japanese or Korean so she picked “race”. A spouse commented that she was mistaken to be rich when she was waiting at the bus stop and a beggar came to ask her for money. Therefore she picked “socioeconomic status”. A graduate student from China pointed out, “I feel [the pressure from my society] as a female PhD, because they think women are not supposed to do what we are not supposed to do.” I echoed from her point by telling others the famous “Female, Male, Female-Ph.D. Category” saying in China. Through the workshop, we started to notice that identities are changing and complex. Participants from the same country would choose different identity markers when facing statements like “The part of the identity that is valued the most in your country”.

Controversy and Thought
A controversial conversation will occur inevitably as long as someone mentioned the western media tried to manipulate their audience by imposing a wrong image of their culture/country/people. A Chinese student said she wanted to share more about the Chinese culture due to this reason. However, I doubt that whether she mixed up with the concepts between Chinese culture and Chinese government. Later on, we heard an old cliché like “as Chinese, we are the symbol of China”, which implied a person should voice for his/her countrymen/government/culture, no matter how much he/she feel attached to or agree on the affairs. I agree that sometimes, attaching oneself to a group and executing localism this way do benefit the group members; unions are good examples. However, I think the idea of this workshop is to stop labeling people using one simple identity and even coerce people by moral high ground. I hope more and more life experiences can help us truly appreciate the complexity of identities and view each person individually.