Who are you anyway?

Identity is personal and collective and influences one’s life at all levels.  Wenger (2000) suggests that our identity is shaped by participation in social learning systems – from families to work to school – and that it needs to have a strong foundation balanced with an ability to expand. Participating in social learning systems includes a sense of engagement with others, an ability to reflect on the system and consider alternatives, and a sense of purpose or alignment.  By knowing who we are, we are better able to imagine, investigate, respond, plan, and question.

College can be its own social learning system.  It certainly is a time for identity development. (Chickering and Reisser 1993).  Our readings this week seem aimed to drive home the point that all perspectives (especially of the underrepresented) have value.  My goal as an educator in the community college system is to empower the students with whom I work to know themselves – to establish identity – and to learn how to create personally meaningful goals and opportunities.  To do this effectively, I need to be aware of myself as well.

Who am I?  I consider myself as one who serves others and who works toward social justice.  The Jesuit university I attended helped me to develop that identity which was solidified in a year of volunteer service after college graduation with an organization called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  The Jesuit Volunteer Corps gives young adults an opportunity to work toward social justice while living a simple lifestyle in community with others who serve – all with an openness to exploring spirituality.

Who are the students I serve?  They are people of all ages with diverse experiences.  Some desire to make someone proud or to pave the way for a younger sibling, most have hopes and dreams of participating in our consumer culture and/or of making a difference in their future work.  Arthur Chickering’s work on the identity development of college students, suggests that college is a time to develop competence, interdependence, integrity, purpose (Chickering and Reisser, 1993).  In order to successfully navigate the college system and one’s own development, some know-how is needed.  Unfortunately, students from poorer backgrounds are often denied that know-how.  They may, however, have other forms of capital such as aspirational, social, or familial (Yosso in Liou et al 2009).  Our job as educators is to increase our student’s capital to cross boundaries and achieve success so each can align with her/his unique goals.  I believe it’s my moral imperative as a person whose conscience was formed with exposure to social justice.

Consider higher education institutions as communities of practice.  Not all communities are equal, though.  Communities with a balance of engagement, mutual relationships, and a repertoire of artifacts (e.g. language, rituals, etc.)  are more competent than others.  Without access to the artifacts or relationships of mutuality students will have a harder time succeeding.  If students can’t rely on their teachers to engage with them and share the resources necessary to succeed, then we all suffer the consequences of having a divided society of have’s and have-not’s.

Looking inward to better understand the self allows for more authentic engagement.  Sharing that understanding allows for more equal access.  As I model and encourage students to do the same we will all have access to a greater repertoire of resources and artifacts and improve self-efficacy as we move closer to our goals.  Who are you?

Chickering, A.W. & Reisser, L (1993). Education and Identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Liou, D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R. & Cooper, R. (2009).  Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, (45), 534-555.

Wenger, E (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.