Identity and Its Impact on Service

Posted October 9th, 2009 at 4:44 pm.

Diversity Conversation September 25, 2009

At the first diversity conversation of the year, the topic discussed was identity and its impact on service. Many of the attendees came back with anecdotes from service projects and internships this summer to contribute to the discussion. When going around to say why each person came, there was a noticeable interest in how privilege interacts with service.

To kick off the conversation, it was important to address identity as something that is multifaceted and shaped by both external and internal elements. Additionally, people have the option to choose which parts of their identity they want articulate. The conversation incorporated four dimensions of identity that seem salient in service work, as broken down by one of the facilitators: race, class, religion and gender and sexuality.

Some of the questions/points raised in discussion about the relationship between identity and service and how the two are connected:

· Identity can get in the way when people question why you are there; if you don’t have a vested interest, why should you care?

· What if identity is misperceived?

· People judge competence based on race, appearance of age

· Mistrust of certain identities

The question about the relationship between identity and service prompted a larger discussion around the question:

How do assumptions affect the way you perform in service and does overcoming those assumptions make you more effective in your work?

· Understanding the way assumptions work helps us to interact with people

· Existing assumption that those who do service are wealthy and have lots of time

· Getting paid for service receives different reactions

· Takes patience with self and others to overcome assumptions

· Code-switching: behaving differently in different environments to fit into the context. Using different types of language. Originated with theory that African-Americans need to code-switch to make it in the white world.

o Code-switching can have negative effects including get slack from one’s own community, questioning authenticity, uncertainty about self

· Being reflective about feeling uncomfortable vs. unsafe. If you are never uncomfortable, you are not going to learn anything, but being unsafe also causes you to not learn anything.

· We have control of the expectations we set for others

On that positive note, we ran out of time, although the conversation can continue at various resources at both Bryn Mawr (the CEO, SJPP, CDA’s, affinity groups) and Haverford (CPGC and CPGC internships) and this blog!

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