Identity @ SIPA: Defining Who We Are

On October 25th, SIPA hosted a discussion on identity within the school. Seven fellow second-year students and I, all holding a multitude of salient identities, gathered around a table to discuss how identity plays an integral role in their experience at SIPA. Surrounded by an audience of our peers, we discussed the importance of diversity in higher education, how our identities have shifted since coming to SIPA, and the misconceptions people place on them because of their identities. The hour-long discussion ended with a Q&A session where students in the audience asked questions on the shaping of identity and shared stories of how their identities have interacted and interplayed as students at SIPA.

L-R: Katy Swartz, Karla Henriquez, Mike Drake, Maria Fernanda Avila Ruiz, Kier Joy, Maggie Wang, Lindsay Horne, Nitin Magima

One of the themes that revealed themselves over the discussion focused around many international students’ reconciliation with coming from racially/ethnically homogeneous spaces to the diversity that SIPA holds. One student discussed how in her home country in Latin America, she has always been seen as white but upon moving to America, she was seen as a person of color. Another student talked about how her citizenship identity became emphasized when she moved to SIPA. Even as a domestic student who hasn’t been in as diverse of spaces as SIPA, I can say I experienced a shift in identity where my Americanism has been emphasized as it contrasts with the dozens of different nationalities SIPA has to offer.

Students also discussed how community at SIPA has been one of their strongest support structures when facing the difficulties of grad school at SIPA. Many shared moments where they were able to lean on fellow SIPA students during hard times. This ultimately led to a discussion on the importance of allyship – for those with privilege to be able to listen, support, and advocate for those who are historically underserved and underrepresented. As the President of the Student of Color organization at our school, I’ve found that there are always non-person of color allies always willing to support our initiatives. The support system embedded within the student body at SIPA has been one of the most rewarding features of my grad school experience.

One of the coolest parts of the Identity @ SIPA event was the playlist that was created to play as students entered and left the discussion. Each student panelists contributed two songs that represented their identity. I chose “F.U.B.U.” by Solange and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. You can hear the entire playlist here on Spotify.