Academic Diversity Activities: Cultural Identity: Attaching A Story

Time

60 minutes

Materials needed

  • Pre-made name tags
  • Descriptions of the identities in sealed envelopes
  • Paper

Directions

Assign participants identities and have them wear the appropriate label. From that point on, they will take on that label’s identity. Encourage the participants to think about their characteristics based solely on the labels that they have been assigned. Ask them to think about their own biases and to write descriptors honestly based on their values and experiences.

Labels

  • Upper Class
  • Jew
  • Religious
  • Straight
  • Lesbian
  • Gay
  • Convict
  • Black
  • Goth
  • Alcoholic
  • White
  • Disabled
  • Activist
  • Deaf
  • HIV+
  • Working Class

Make sure that no one opens the description of their identities until they are told to do so!

Tasks

  • List 3-5 characteristics about yourself.
  • List 3-5 characteristics about two other people in the group.
  • Go up to those two people and tell them what you wrote down.

Once everyone has shared with each other, go around the room and have the participants share what they wrote down about their “identity.” They should start by saying “I am…” Invite those who wrote about those identities to share what they thought about them.

Then have the participants open the sealed envelopes and read the real story behind who they are. Have them start by saying “This is who I am…”

Discussion

Discuss that the assumptions we make about others and the “stories” we attach to labels affect the way we treat each other. When we go by labels, we are making huge assumptions about who the other person really is. Our assumptions can lead to discrimination and marginalization!

Watch your language. If you are unsure of how to call a person, ask! Some people are comfortable with being called “Black” while others insist that they be called “African American”.

Get to know the person. More often than not, stereotypes are a pale comparison to who that person really is.

We are so often caught up in the labels and the stories we attach to people that we forget to realize our COMMON HUMANITY!

Then show the “What’s Going On?” music video, available through aaaw.org and at most music stores.

Identities are to be sealed one per envelope.

Upper Class

I am a 46-year old African American woman who inherited a large sum of money from my parents. My parents were not rich themselves but worked hard and sacrificed their own happiness to earn the fortune that I now have. Because I consider myself extremely blessed, I regularly donate large sums of money to various charities worldwide. I have dedicated my life to helping the needy.

Jew

I am a 26-year old female attorney working in one of New York City’s top law firms. I consider my Jewish heritage important, but I don’t allow it to pervade every aspect of my life. I am offended by people who keep treating me differently because of my heritage.

Lesbian

I am a 43-year old mother of two. It was only recently that I decided to come out to my husband and kids. I have had it with people who say I shouldn’t have custody of my children because they are “unsafe” with me.

Religious

I am a 22-year old male college student. I was raised in strict religious upbringing but have formulated a more “liberal” worldview because of my experiences in college. I still consider myself very religious and I am looking into serving in the ministry shortly.

Goth

I am a 16-year old male sophomore in high school. I come from a single parent home and am working two jobs to help support the family. I have a younger sister and want to make sure that she doesn’t hang with the wrong crowd in school. I am tired of people assuming things about me simply because of my appearance.

Working Class

I am a 36-year old male factory worker. I am the father of two kids and a loving husband to a devoted wife. I barely make enough to support my family, but I enjoy my life and make the most of what I have. I take pride in my accomplishments and am offended by people who think I need help.

Gay

I am a 27-year old male police officer. I am gay but do not want anyone—especially my coworkers—to know. As far as I’m concerned, I am living as “normal” a life as possible and don’t want to complicate things by coming out.

Convict

I am a 65-year old male who was convicted of a felony when I was 18. I spent 5 years in prison. I served my time and since then have contributed greatly to my community as the town veterinarian. I am now considered one of the pillars of my community.

Alcoholic

I am a 33-year old male executive. I was once an alcoholic. With support from my family and community, I have successfully “kicked the habit” and have spent the last four years completely alcohol-free.

White

I am a 21-year old female college student who was born of a Puerto Rican father and an Irish mother. My values, beliefs, and mannerisms are very Puerto Rican because I lived there till I was 18. I consider myself Puerto Rican by all accounts but my friends consider me to be white because of the color of my skin. I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.

Activist

I am a 47-year old female attorney who has been advocating for a change in health care policy after my son was refused admission to a local hospital during an emergency because I had the wrong HMO. My son later died due to complications of his condition. I have been writing my congressperson and am in dialogue with my HMO.

Deaf

I am a 23-year old female accountant who is deaf. I graduated summa cum laude from the world-renowned Gallaudet University. I have no trouble communicating with others. I am very proud of my culture and am offended by people who think that I have a “disability”.

HIV+

I am a 33-year old male teacher at the local elementary school. I contracted HIV through a blood transfusion 11 years ago. I consider myself extremely lucky that I am in excellent health after all these years. I have been happily married to my wife for 10 years. Except for my wife and my doctor, no one else knows about my condition.

Straight

I am a 36-year old mother of two. I work at the local bank as the general manager. I am also very involved in my church. I have no big opinions on the homosexuality issue. I think that God has a purpose for everyone being who they are.

Black

I am the 18-year old son of an Caucasian father and an African American mother. When I sent in my college applications, I checked the box for “African American” because I think that this will give me the edge over other applicants given that I am a “minority”. Either way, I really don’t care which racial category I’m boxed into.

Disabled

I am a 37-year old woman who was born with spina bifida. I have used a wheelchair since I was a young girl. I have been able to make modifications within my home and with my vehicle so mobility is not an issue for me. There are still a lot of improvements to be made within my community. I consider myself independent in almost every way.

Source: Cultural Identity: Attaching a Story via Fenneberg, L. (2007). University 101 Instructor Manual. St. Louis, MO: Saint Louis University.