TINT & Compass created a safe place where the concept of personal identity was explored by a diverse audience from different perspectives. The event aimed to promote tolerance, understanding, and dialogue about each other’s’ identity struggles even when they were not directly relatable to our own experiences. No politics were allowed, just conversations and questions from the heart, which is quite a positive remark and hard to find these days when the topic is identity.
After an ice breaker game, where people could learn random facts about the group by jumping into a circle to every ‘yes’ to the questions asked, the group carries on talking with each other while enjoying a delicious dinner by Local Legends.
Afterwards, TINT Life Coach and University Chaplain, Rachelle van Andel, demystified the concept of personal identity by providing a theoretical framework about the philosophy and meaning of the word identity, how it was developed through history, how it impacts us, and how different parts of who we are create our identity. It was clear from her presentation that this topic has been quite complex and sometimes controversial. Nevertheless, the concept of intersectionality was the key message, which means, that we are interconnected creatures that can be identified with several tags from among others our race, gender, class, culture, and, therefore, we are a collection of several identities that can have more or less impact in our lives.
The presentation finished with a moment to reflect upon the inspiring TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, about the danger of one story to describe the world around us. During this talk, she shares a powerful story about how she always associated one family in her village with being ‘poor', since that’s the only aspect of the family her mom told her about. Later she found out the family was not only poor. They were much more than that.
Later in life, she would relate to this story when her American roommate saw her as only ‘African’. She was much more than that. Again, the concept of intersectionality is presented quite clearly here due to the complexity of human beings that cannot be reduced to just one word or narrative.
The second part of the event was about the sharing of five different personal stories about several identities: gender identity, cultural identity, religious identity, professional identity, and sexual identity. All of them shared highly personal stories, which made me humble and grateful for such honesty and open-heart storytelling. Every story reflected an initial struggle for self-acceptance or for a sense of belonging in the community and I found it interesting how most speakers used the mirror as a metaphor for those feelings: “I used to look in the mirror and I couldn’t recognize the person reflected”. However, everyone managed to overcome it and be comfortable in their own skin to inspire others with their stories during this evening. It was beautiful to hear about their development and how important some people were in their lives, from close friends to authority figure's advice or even God. At the end of every story, there was a peaceful smile and the reinforcement of an important message: “This part of me made me reflect about who I am, but I am much more than just my gender, nationality, religion, profession or sexual orientation.”
Despite it already being late in the evening, a lot of people stayed around and talked with one another. And one of the greatest things I heard was someone saying: “I only related to 2 or 3 speakers but I felt empathy and understood the others' stories much better as well!”
Who do I think I am? Still, a hard question to answer, probably a multitude of different things. But what I learned during this event is that there is much more that united us than separated us. There is no need to make identity a battle with such strong barricades, let’s just sit down, talk and accept each other.
Written by Ana Pereira and Mayke Krekel
Pictures by Youfang Peng