Take off the mask and explore your identity


Members of the Asian American Cultural Center discover more about their identities by engaging creatively as a group (Rachel Santostefano/The Daily Campus)

Students are often struggling with the formation of their identity throughout their undergraduate career. Unmasking Your Identity, a new organization on campus that focuses on Asian American identity, hosted a workshop on Tuesday evening at the Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC) with Angela Rola, the director of AsACC, and Kayla Wong, a graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and graduate assistant at AsACC.   

The group was initially brought together by a group of students who were inspired by a lecture on Asian American identity back in February. 

“It really piqued a lot of interest from the people that did attend the lecture which inspired me to further create more events and programming around Asian-american identity or identity in general … Next year, we’re planning to make a more permanent program,” Anthony Poon, an eighth-semester environmental engineering major, said. 

To begin the discussion, Rola asked students about whether they were left-brained or right-brained; this meant if they were more logical, creative or a bit of both. Rola mentioned how she talked to many students about several identities at a previous lecture and how the workshop was to continue off of that conversation because “identity is a journey.” 

The first creative activity was led by Rola where she introduced the “I Am From” poem and gave prompted students to think about certain aspects of their childhoods. Some prompts she gave included childhood toys, familiar smells or sayings from family members. Students were then asked to construct a poem out of their responses and then share with the group. 

Wong later led a discussion on the difference between social and personal identities and the importance of understanding intersectionality. Personal identity refers to concepts developed about oneself, with Wong providing an example about how she identifies as a Californian. Meanwhile, social identity refers to an individual’s sense of self as a result of social constructs and groupthink, such as an individual’s race or religion. With this discussion, Wong wanted to “communicate that identity is complex and multifaceted … and that there are aspects of identity that can’t be seen.” 

Later on, Wong brought up a Shel Silverstein poem that inspired her undergraduate thesis and the mask activity students would engage in.  

“There are several ways of doing the mask workshop but we decided this one was to have students free thinking about how they want to represent themselves,” Rola said. 

Students gathered painting supplies and blank masks, and began painting with various designs and colors to represent themselves. 

“For me, it was more about coming to terms with who I am as a person and what my beliefs are,” Vivian Kwok, a sixth-semester human development and family sciences major, said. “My mask is a lot of colors symbolizing many things. Pink is love and red is hate or anger … The yellow represents happiness and all the white space represents everything else that I haven’t experienced yet.” 

With the mask workshop, Rola and Wong hoped to provide students with an outlet for them to express themselves and gain a deeper sense of who they are. This lecture is only a small part of a series on identity that will continue into the next academic year. 

“We’re hoping that as the series goes forward in the next academic year we’re really going to delve into deeper ways that we think about our identity, how those have been developed, our identity issues that we’re scared about or haven’t revealed yet to ourselves and really dig deep into how we come about into our identities,” Rola said. 

Brandon Barzola is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brandon.barzola@uconn.edu. He tweets @brandonbarzola.

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