Life at Lawrence: The journey of identity

In the past two weeks, there have been at least three holidays that bring people together based on identity: first we had Mental Health Awareness Day followed by Coming Out Day and most recently, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. All three days were filled with informational and celebrational programming, heartfelt Facebook posts and a general pride in people owning who they are. However, not all Lawrentians have such good relationships with their identities. I’ve already talked about how college is a time of change (a cliché I cannot seem to shake), but these changes do not always come quickly. Figuring out how to schedule may be something you learn in your first term, but understanding who you are can take quite a while! Don’t fret — you have plenty of time and resources for figuring yourself out, and your fellow Lawrentians are here to support you as always. 

While Lawrence is not always the ideal place to explore one’s identity (sometimes what you need you just cannot find, even in the shining metropolis that is Appleton), I would dare say our environment and social climate are conducive to thinking and talking about one’s identity. Most people that I’ve encountered over my past three years here have a general understanding of at least particularly noteworthy categories of identity, such as gender, race, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, national origin and socioeconomic status, though there are of course more. With such an awareness of identity and with the acceptance of diversity that Lawrence tries to nurture, there comes a slew of resources that can help those in need of direction. 

For those who are struggling to understand where you fit into certain identity categories, I encourage you to find these resources or other people who can help you out. Clubs are an obvious starting point, as there are so many groups on campus suited for various identities and backgrounds, like Colores, LUNA, Lawrence International and Hillel, just to name a few. However, if you can’t find a good group for you, or if you want to start out small, ask around! If there’s a faculty or staff member that you could have a good conversation with, just ask them respectfully for guidance. If you know a student who has gone through an experience you’re going through, try reaching out and seeking advice. As long as you are being considerate and polite, these people will understand your struggle and want to help you along your journey!

In total contrast to the kind of Lawrentian I’ve been talking about, there are plenty of Lawrentians who think that they have their identities all figured out and set in stone. To be confident in one’s identity is a good thing, but it is important to remember that identity can change! Change can, of course, take many different forms, drastic and subtle alike, but being open to any change can prevent it from being stressful. I have had quite a few friends over the years go from being very firm in their sexual and gender identities specifically, and then have a sudden revelation that made them question themselves. When I asked them about what was causing them stress, part of it was often the shock of discovering something completely new about themselves, but there was also often the feeling of exclusion. Some of these friends felt very in tune with their identity communities, but their revelation made them feel different even from those groups. Grand revelations aside, I’ve witnessed plenty of people avoiding certain experiences and viewpoints to preserve their identities and groups and the fear here is very similar. This isn’t an easy feeling to deal with, but being flexible with yourself and firm in your self-love is the key to moving forward and embracing the updated version of you! 

As usual, I write about this because I have a stake of my own in the topic. Since freshman year (and even before, to be quite honest), I have been on my own journey to figure out my identity on the queer spectrum. How should I dress? How should I talk? Who am I interested in and what kind of relationship do I want? It’s a lot to juggle, especially when others around you seem to have things figured out and that bugged me for my first year or two here. In the end, I realized that beating myself up for not having my sense of self set in stone was not worth my energy and that uncertainty is just a part of being. What is important is that we practice patience with ourselves and do what will make ourselves happy and more at home in our own minds. Stay on your path of self-discovery — I am here supporting you!