Identity workshop bridges freshman experience, common theme


Alessandra Urbina / Hilltop Views

Students gathered for a discussion on identity, national origin and ethnicity.

A circle of close to 50 bright-eyed freshmen came together to explore the significance of this year’s Common Theme in their own lives during an identity-based workshop hosted by the Freshman Studies Program, Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and the Office of First Year Experience on Sept. 18.

Sitting in the Maloney Room, students enrolled in Freshman Studies classes participated in a communal activity that allowed them to reflect on their own individual identities in context of other members’ of the Class of 2022.

Statements were called out by moderator Joi Torres, Director of Diversity & Inclusion: “I am a first-generation student,” and “I come from a small town,” Torres said. If a student could relate to a statement, they were invited to step into the middle of the room to share a little more about how those statements made them feel and why they felt that way in terms of their identity.

The activity, inspired by this year’s Common Theme Book “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, aimed to provide a safe space for students to be given an early opportunity to consider these formative reflections during a key stage in their lives.

To many freshmen, much of what’s described in the book, concerning Noah’s own exploration of his identity and role within society, is a familiar, if not so similar, story.

Coming from a “very white, suburban, middle-class community,” freshman Hannah Schochler believes that “a lot of us can get very comfortable in our own surroundings,” she said. “It’s important to see people who don’t necessarily look like us and to understand different perspectives.” Of the activity, she explains with an open heart that it “made me very aware of where you came from and forced you to be aware of others too,” Schochler said. “Even though I’ve never gotten a chance to talk to others before, I was still able to learn a lot more about who they are as people.”

This theme of building community, even if it occurred indirectly to many, also rang true to others. After Torres asked the large, pensive group: “why do you think we chose this activity for this workshop?” It didn’t take long for freshman Nico James to voice an intimately honest answer. “We’re all in college; we’re all starting off. It’s going to be a long four years, so having people privy to you makes those four years a lot easier, especially if there’s someone you can identify with,” he said.

“It was eye-opening and nice to see. It’s the scariest thing in the world to feel alone. I remember coming here I felt a little lonely, but this makes the whole process, like easing into it a whole lot easier,” James said. “Even if you didn’t want to, now you have four to five people who can relate to you. It kind of threw people your way without you realizing.”

As the year continues, freshman will be able to look forward to other themed events which can help them celebrate and explore their own identities in different ways.

“I want you to think about these circles as you walk around the school. Rarely do we get to listen to people who don’t share your identity,” Torres wrapped up as students begun to take in fresh breaths of air. “This is a beautiful time to be alive, especially in college,” she finished, and the room nodded with a new spirit.