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Shaping our group identity with MN Campus Compact's help

October 18, 2017

Fall colors are in full bloom and our CTEP AmeriCorps members are busy setting up computer classes and open labs at their sites. Amidst all this hustle and bustle we take a day off to get energized for the year ahead at our Member Fall retreat at the beautiful YMCA Camp Ighowan. It’s one of our favorite days of the year because it’s a great opportunity for AmeriCorps members to bond on a deeper level.  It’s also the day where we begin to use some of the amazing training tools from MN Campus Compact, an organization that supports civic engagement and democratic renewal at college campuses.

We end up using a lot of MN Campus Comact’s tools throughout the year, including their resources on assets based community engagement. Above all else on their website, though, we most love their Civic Leadership Development  resources. If you are running any kind of program that touches on diversity and inclusion, or are a member of one, we highly suggest you check out these resources and advocate for using them in your program.

For the last several years we have kicked off our fall retreat with a variation of “Circle of My Multicultural Selves,” though we use the discussion questions from this activity with the personal identity wheel. (I went to a training once where this was glossed over and used so badly that it was almost comical, so educators beware! It’s all about how you use the tool.)

I’ve pulled some of our past members’ reactions to this activity in order to give a sense of why we do this, and why we are so excited to use this again at our upcoming retreat. Doing an entire year of AmeriCorps service is hard, and we want our members to know and trust each other so that they can support one another throughout the year. Ultimately this helps our members work in the electronic classroom on so many levels, so thanks to MN Campus Compact for helping us build our community at CTEP.

One major takeaway from the retreat will be what I learned about our cohort during the identity wheel conversations. I was so proud of people for sharing personal experiences with the group. I know how hard it can be to disclose something you’re struggling with and I really believe our group is going to be tightly knit and supportive of everyone’s journey this year. I think it might be cool to do two identity wheel activities—one at the fall retreat, and maybe one towards the end of the year. When I was working on my wheel this year I definitely felt that some aspects of myself had changed in my year of service.

I liked the identity wheel. It prompted me to think about identities people apply to me since people can usually tell that I am Hispanic. However, my dad left when I was young so I never learned much about his culture outside of when I've visited his family in Peru. I was raised Jewish by my mom so I know much more about that culture and identify much more strongly with that than I do my Peruvian culture. It made me think about identities I apply to other people and was a nice reminder that you truly can't tell much about someone from the way they look.

I just want to emphasize that I have never been someone who loves group activities or hanging out in group settings. In fact, I have been known to say things like “I hate games,” “I hate activities,” “I hate experiences,” and yes, even “I hate retreats.” Mostly I’ve always been too shy and introverted to enjoy those things. But personality and identity aren’t fixed! I especially loved the identity wheel activity, because it allowed me to talk to everyone I feel like I haven’t had the chance to get to know yet, and it allowed me to think about myself in ways I hadn’t before.

The group discussion about identity felt productive and interesting. It was great to learn more about others’ perspectives and the life stories and thoughts they carry with them. I’m proud of myself for opening up about having epilepsy because practically it is a wise thing to do and personally it felt like a giant step because I’m still working towards overcoming years of fear and shame because of it.

Before beginning the small group discussion with each new group, I would quickly glance at everyone else's identity circles and then use that information to choose which of my own identities I would talk about with that particular group. For example, I was more likely to talk about my own mental health issues if I noticed that someone else had one or more of the same issues, and I was less likely to talk about being bisexual if the other people in the group had noted that they were straight. I think I partially did this because it would be easier to keep the conversation flowing if I talked about an identity that others in the group could relate to, and because it helped me focus in on a single identity that I think about a lot.

I got to know people on a more personal level which makes it easier to converse about issues we face at our sites and in our everyday lives. I now feel like there is network of people that I can turn to for both work related things and more social activities.

-Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva is the Director of Training and Education at CTEP AmeriCorps.