Tuesday, Sept. 18 marked the first Identity and Empathy Workshop of the year at Winona State University. The workshop was hosted by professor Alyssa Harter of the communications studies department, and Bekky Vrabel, distance education and outreach librarian. The workshop focused on an exploration of self-identity and the practice of empathy towards other individuals.
Following the university’s theme of “Resilience,” Harter and Vrabel explained that this workshop was one of many to come through this year.
“Just an overview of what we will be covering for the series going forward today is about identity, how we describe our identity and how we relate to other identities,” Vrabel said. “October is race and ethnicity, November is social economic status, December is sex and gender, February is LGBTQ, March is ability and disability, April will be body image.”
All of these workshops will be discussing topics and their correlation to self-identity and impact to the community. All students, faculty and community members are welcome to share and participate in these discussions.
“All of these discussions impact our own identity in some manner and no one is part of one identity but an overlap of identities that makes us who we are,” Vrabel said.
The basis of the discussion that took place was to create comfort. Harter also asked the group to define identity as a whole.
“There is going to be this ground rule that we respect each other’s opinions and what we talk about here is confidential,” Harter said. “In order to talk about identity, we must know what it is, we say this word or see it, but what does it really mean or include?”
Harter gave the room time to come up with a definition to share and to be discussed as a larger group.
Morgan Minich, a first-year student at Winona State, attended the workshop and commented on Harter’s question.
“Identity could be multiple pieces of a whole, like a puzzle,” Minich said.
As different definitions were put on the board, Vrabel handed each student a white sheet of paper and colored pencils, for an exercise on identity.
“As Bekky and I have put on the board, each of you will make a spider web, with each additional circle you will put what you identify with,” Harter said.
The students were given time to write and then express what they identified with. The discussion was opened to current issues and the community’s impacts toward different identities.
Next month’s discussion will be on race and ethnicity and Harter and Vrabel encourage all students to participate in this discussion.
“Winona State students need to be exposed to different identities in order to build a stronger community,” Harter said.