Tightening up the self-portrait activity

I’ve been thinking of ways of making my identity self-portrait activity a bit more rigorous. The results from the pilot were useful because it revealed what young people tended to leave out of their portraits when representing their identities. In an earlier post I mentioned how I really had to push the youth to think about elements in their identity that linked them to a larger community, and in relation to that, another one of the most glaring omissions was a lack of engagement with race and gender. Even if those aspects of the self aren’t necessarily at the forefront of one’s self-concept, I think it’s valuable for young people to wrestle with them a little. Personally speaking, I don’t move through this world primarily as “Asian woman,” but I’ve had that label foisted on me often enough to know that my appearance affects how strangers perceive me. And it’s worth some thought to tease out the implications of that.

I think the defining the role of the mentors in this activity will be key to executing it properly. Before the session I had emailed the mentors a list of sample questions they could use in conversation with their youth during partner work.

  • Are there competing identities that they have to manage or decide between? 
  • Are there identities that they are trying to outgrow or resist? 
  • Do they feel locked into certain identities? 
  • Are there ones they would like to “try on”? What seems to fit? What doesn’t feel authentic? 
  • Do they feel pressure to conform to certain group identities (with family or peers)?

Since I tend to want to give people a certain level of freedom in my classroom, I presented these questions merely as suggestions. Now I see that I need to be a bit more forceful about structuring their discussions, and include a few more questions about race and gender in there. It might even be worth dedicating an entire session to the question of what it means to be a man/woman (in a specific community). One of the comics that I use as a warm-up for this activity deals specifically with different models of masculinity, and I think it can be a good springboard to a full session on gender identity.


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