OCCU reflects on the impact of representations

Attendees fill out notecards about representation. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Sydney Leibfritz
Executive Staff

Seated in small circles of five, students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Mary Sue Cushman room for the Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding’s (OCCU) first event of the new semester. Part of their year-long project Representations, the event called Conversations served as a way to build upon earlier conversations about how we intentionally and unintentionally represent our cultures both in media, on campus, and by simply existing.

Upon arrival, attendees were instructed to write their names on a nametag along with an illustration that represented their definition of their culture. Some drew states or countries, some had small pictures of their favorite foods, and others just drew a question mark instead, unsure of what cultures they may be a part of. These small representations allowed everyone to ease into dialogue on what their conceptions of identity and representations were before deeper conversations began.

OCCU President Mandy Tu (C’21) launched the event with a brief speech about why this event and the presence of her organization was necessary. “Most of the time our conversations stop at [where are you from]. We latch onto that seemly important piece of information to encompass our individual identities.”

As an international student, this is something she and others have come to know all too well on campus: “Everyone at some point has had to take on the task of representing more than themselves; it’s just a little more apparent and pertinent for international students when we get entire nationalities heaped onto our heads.”

Assistant Counsel of Global Affairs Abby Colbert then guided everyone through a short poem-writing activity. Beginning with seven sentences beginning with “I am…,” everyone had to finish the statement and reveal some parts of their identity. Then, with Colbert facilitating conversation with short discussion questions, the conversation focused around why everyone chose to reveal these specific aspects about themselves and why some remained hidden or unrepresented.

Breaking out of the small groups, everyone was asked to drift around the room and introduce themselves to someone new. Alternating between speaker and listener roles, the pairs discussed moments in their lives where someone assumed something about them based on their appearance or identity and the impact or constraint that brought upon them.

After a brief debrief, the event concluded and everyone was invited to participate in the ongoing Representation Station project. Notecards read “I represent…” or “Don’t ask me to represent all…,” left unfinished for participants to complete. Before leaving, most filled out a notecard and added their voice to the continuing conversation.