Sharing more about oneself can bring out a wide range of emotions and feelings.
Posted on September 12, 2023 by Sandra Huffman
The Multicultural Communities Council hosted their first Open Dialogue of the year, held on Friday, September 1, and included an interactive session on Understanding Identity presented by Meghan Gladle, Multicultural Student Services Manager. The goal of this Dialogue was to consider the influences and factors that make us who we are and recognize how aspects of our identity intersect and create different, lived experiences. The event provided space for audience members to consider how their own identities impact their perceptions of others, as well as the privileges they hold in different contexts and how they relate to others.
When asked about the purpose of the Open Dialogue series, Gladle shared, “In order to create a welcoming environment for all students, we need to provide opportunities for folks to engage in dialogue, which fosters mutual understanding. The Open Dialogue series was envisioned by the previous academic year’s president of the Multicultural Communities Council, Ingrid Kalwitz Blanco ’23. The Series provides the Sweet Briar community with a curated space to discuss topics related to identity and belonging that matter to the student community.”
Gladle opened the event by having attendees reflect on what feelings may be in the room when discussing one’s identity. Participants shared a wide range of emotions, from pride to nervousness. Gladle explained how, although these feelings can be scary or uncomfortable, we need to walk through that discomfort together in order to have meaningful conversations about identity. The Open Dialogue series provides an opportunity for all to practice sharing about one’s own identity and learning more about the identities held by others.
to move around the room and answer questions such as what aspect of their identity they felt was most prominent during their childhoods or which aspect of their identity they think others notice about them first. Posted on the wall were different identity categories for participants to consider, including religion, gender, age, and national origin. Participants then moved about the room to the identity category that most clearly answered the different questions for them. This gave everyone a visual representation of how we all identify differently with these categories - sometimes sharing answers to questions that we may not have assumed to hold in common with others. In an activity to show the relationship between identity and context, she asked participants
After this exercise, many participants felt that even though their responses changed from question to question, they always had something in common with another person in the room. By reflecting on and voicing their identities, they discovered shared commonalities which were described in the debriefing activity as “empowering”, “magical”, and “comfortable”. Although some participants were originally apprehensive to share, the result was rewarding when others held space for them to be themselves and develop greater confidence in disclosing very personal aspects of themselves with others.
In a final call to action, Gladle asked everyone to hold space for others and allow everyone to bring all aspects of their identities to relationships, the classroom, and on-campus events. She challenged the audience to suspend their judgment in these spaces in order to better understand different backgrounds and become more accepting of others. She asked that participants cultivate respectful relationships, practice listening to others while still maintaining a balance of personal self-care.
Molly Boggs, Director of Academic Writing, and Gladle developed this Open Dialogue session using the University of Michigan’s Social Identity Wheel, which they adapted for the Sweet Briar College community.
Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend Open Dialogues, hosted on the first Friday afternoon of the month, to share and unpack their own experiences while also learning how to be a better ally for others. Topics this semester include Navigating the job search and workplace as a member of the Queer community, Discussing Religious Trauma, and Creating space for neurodivergent students and students with disabilities. Learn more about the Open Dialogue series here.