In the classroom, Cristina Aceves doesn¿t see skin color, style of dress, accent or anything out of the ordinary. She says she sees all of her classmates as equals.
¿We kind of cluster ourselves under one huge umbrella,¿ she says. ¿We¿re able to connect with others more. We don¿t seem to see race or anything ¿ we¿re all students in the school environment.¿
Outside of her academic home, however, it is a different story. She acknowledges that she catches herself noticing differences in the people around her. Without consciously realizing it, she says she unintentionally judges her fellow students.
¿I would be lying if I said I didn¿t,¿ says the fourth-year education student. ¿Most of the time I¿ll never say it because I know it¿s wrong, but I¿ll think of it multiple times a day.¿
Aceves also thinks about how she perceives herself, and she is trying not to yield to negative stereotypes.
¿It¿s kind of a struggle within myself,¿ she says.
In order better understand others¿ identities and her own, Aceves signed up for the Office of Student Life & Cultural Centers¿ Cross Cultural Retreat in late January. This year¿s theme, ¿I Am¿¿ was the perfect headline for Aceves and her peers to learn about themselves and one another.
¿The reality is that we all have multiple identities ¿ every single one of us,¿ says Jami Grosser, co-chair of retreat and coordinator of the Pride Center. ¿Those identities affect the way we view the world and the way we experience the world. That understanding of ourselves and the systemic interaction of identities is critical to understanding social justice.¿
Through a series of workshops and discussions, the retreat focused on diversity and social justice basics, such as understanding identity, and the relationship that those identities have in individual experiences and the world at large.
¿Our goal is to create awareness for students,¿ Grosser says. ¿Where they experience oppression, we can provide empowerment. Where they experience privilege, we can provide ally building.¿
Before the retreat, Aceves identified herself as a Mexican-American female student. After the retreat, she has a new point of view.
¿I am mujer, Mexicana- Americana, U.S. citizen, American, Catholic and heterosexual,¿ she says while mapping a spiral to describe the connectivity of her identities.
Aceves also learned at the retreat that prejudices can be manifested unintentionally, often through body language.
¿I¿ve observed others walk past people and completely see through them, or altogether neglect them as a whole,¿ she says. ¿Unfortunately, I have had this happen to me throughout my life. It makes me feel inferior and often belittled as human being.¿
Aceves says she wants to learn more about other identities and would like to be an advocate for identity awareness in Los Angeles.
¿Before the retreat, I had put my identities in an order: first that I am a person of color ¿ of a minority group,¿ she says. ¿Second, that I am a woman, so a woman of color, and then I realized that no matter what, you¿re always wearing all of your lenses, all of your nametags at the same time, and it¿s never simply one or the other. So that¿s something that I realized ¿ to own up to all of your identities.¿
The more people accept their identities, Aceves says, the more likely they are to connect with others. By doing this, people can free themselves of merely tolerating others and move forward in promoting a more accepting environment that embraces differences.
For students who would like to learn more about identities, diversity and social justice, the Office of Student Life offers many services through the cultural centers and other programs. Visit http://dsa.cpp.edu/osl/default.asp for more information.