Before endeavoring to develop cultural knowledge and awareness about others, we must first uncover and examine personal social and cultural identities. Guided self-reflection allows us to better understand how social group memberships inform who we are. This exercise is an important vehicle in any peer conflict mediation program to help students embrace the concept of being culturally responsive and culturally sensitive.
- Students will identify at least 5 facets of their multicultural selves
- Students will reflect on how any one identity facet shapes the way they view the world
- Students will understand the many reasons that miscommunication can occur
- Teacher prepares model of their own identity before presentation
- Copy of student handout (PDF) for each student
What is culture? It is a shared system of meanings, beliefs, values and behaviors through which we interpret our experiences. Culture is learned, collective and changes over time. Culture is generally understood to be "what we know that everyone like us knows."
The following exercise explores the roots of cultural learning by naming aspects of identity important to each individual. It highlights the multiple dimensions of our identities and addresses the importance of self-identification.
The teacher should complete a handout in advance to serve as a model for students. Use an overhead or simply draw your multicultural self-components on the chalkboard. Example:
Mother – Teacher – Buddhist – Biracial – Marathon Runner
Share how each of your identity bubbles is a lens through which you see the world. Mrs. Fattori might share, for instance, that when she became a mother she became stronger and more sensitive, stronger for having made and given life as well as knowing she would do anything to protect her child. But she also became more sensitive to young life of all kinds around her, whether it be other children, nature or a student just learning to love a certain academic subject.
Distribute a handout to each student and give the following directions: "Place your name in the center figure. Use the identity bubbles to name aspects of yourself that are important in defining who you are."
Allow students time to silently reflect on what they have written. Invite them to form pairs and share why the descriptors they chose are important to them. If time permits, invite pairs to introduce one another to the class.
For middle school/high school students:
Form small groups around the same or similar descriptors, i.e.. daughters, softball players, band member. Discuss similarities and differences among those of the same "group."
Have students reflect on how each individual identity colors and shapes the way they view and interact with the world. The teacher can use her own identity shells to illustrate this concept. Mrs. Fattori, for example, might share how being biracial allows her to be a part of two worlds.
- How would you feel if someone ignored one of your multicultural identity bubbles?
- Can you see how ignoring one of your identity bubbles could cause miscommunication? Can anyone give an example?
- Do you have more than these 5 identities?
- If your 5 identity bubbles are communicating with a group of 5 others, how many identities are interacting? (30 minimum)
Set up the next step by sharing with students that we have many identities in our multicultural selves. Not being aware of our own or others' identities causes miscommunication.Step Four
Our identities are NOT static. We are shaped and reshaped by what goes on around us and our identities constantly change as well. Give examples:
- A parent dies and this reshapes the way we see the world
- We fall in love and this reshapes the way we see the world
- We fall out of love and this reshapes the way we see the world
- We experience an act of violence and this reshapes the way we see the world
So, what we once knew to be true about our selves and others can change over time. For this reason, we should always try to suspend judgment, ask questions of others and talk with those different from us as much as possible.
Adapted from EdChange Multicultural Pavilion.