Windows Shed Light on Racial and Cultural Identity Development

By English Department Co-Chair Theresa Collins

During the course of the semester, students in my senior English elective, Identity Development in Contemporary Culture, have been thinking about the concept of identity, beginning with the foundational work of Erik Erikson. As students moved into further study of defining identity, we looked at concepts like life course development and social identity, thinking about how our biological, social and cultural contexts have an impact on who we are.

Identity development happens across time and contexts, and identity is held, simultaneously, by the individual herself AND her society. In other words, my identity is based on my own sense of who I am as well as the ability of others to recognize who I am in similar ways and across a variety of contexts. Put another way, there are going to be components of my identity that are recognizable, whether I am with my family or friends, at school or work or in other areas of life in which I interact with others.

In December, in conjunction with our reading of Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, students explored core frameworks of racial/cultural identity development through the works of Derald and David Wing Sue and Janet Helms, practitioners of color whose groundbreaking work to articulate the phases of racial identity development for people of color and for white people proved instructive to us all.

To synthesize and share our learning with the community, students created a gallery space on the 4th floor. Using the window panes as a canvas as well as metaphor, students defined each phase of racial/cultural identity framework from Sue and Helms and created a series of “I statements” to illustrate the thoughts of a person in each phase.

The activity helped students anchor concepts, and it also helped with another goal of the course: to situate themselves within known frameworks of understanding so, as they continue their own developmental path, they are equipped with tools to articulate who they are and how they are becoming themselves.

In addition to the articulation of each phase, I asked students to create an online discussion to reflect on the work.

Click here for a transcription of each of the window panes and excerpts from student reflections. We encourage community members to take a look through the Windows on Racial Identity Development and ponder some of the questions the students have posed.

Click here for photos of the windows. 

The gallery will be on display until Friday, January 25.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.