Constructing your Identity
As the only Jewish student in my predominantly Christian elementary school, I devoured opportunities to teach and learn about cultural and religious traditions. Every December I not only listened attentively to stories about my classmates' Christmas celebrations, but also meticulously prepared a report for my class to explain the Hanukkah story and dispel popular myths such as the Menorah Fairy. One year, when I told my teacher I had no ornaments to adorn the class's tree, he presented me with a needlepoint Star of David to fasten to the treetop. My fourth-grade sensibilities urged me to be polite, but I had a nagging, instinctive reaction that my star did not belong. In this environment, I grew up both cognizant and appreciative of difference in a largely homogeneous community.
Over time, my youthful delight in sharing holiday customs matured into an intellectual curiosity about how heritage influences thinking about societal issues. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I witnessed the majority of the student body distill itself into uniform social circles, but I refused to fall into this comfortable pattern of self-segregation. Instead, I sought a forum in which to engage with diversity. I devoted myself to Diversity & Distinction , a glossy black-and-white campus publication that explored the shades of grey of social issues.
As a writer for Diversity & Distinction , I broke the unspoken rule of self-segregation. On one occasion, an interviewee's misconceptions of me hampered and nearly terminated our discussion. In order to compose an article about the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict on campus, I met with several students of Palestinian descent during Ramadan after the daily fast. Balancing a plate of chickpeas and rice on my lap, I began to speak when one woman noticed my Star of David necklace and interrupted me. "You're Jewish; do you have a problem with me?" she asked with suspicion, turning the tables. By completing the interview-and writing a balanced representation of the issues-I rose to the challenge of having an inter-ethnic dialogue despite my interviewee's initial hostility toward my heritage.
Two years later, after I ascended to the position of editor-in-chief, I faced an abrupt job-interview question that gave me pause. "Why's a girl like you the editor of a magazine like that?" My interviewer asked bluntly. My identity as a white, Jewish, middle-class woman did not fit her stereotype of the editor of a diversity-oriented magazine. Several of my peers similarly probed why I labored to foster dialogue about topics perceived as "minority issues". By accepting self-segregation as the norm rather than expecting students to confront diversity, these individuals failed to understand the advantage of having diversity on campus.
If the ostensibly diverse groups featured prominently on college brochure covers do not materialize, the educational benefits of diversity are lost. A critical part of my own liberal arts education occurred during meetings with the magazine's unusually diverse staff. My fellow writers and I brought our unique upbringings and experiences to debates about disparate topics, ranging from inter-racial relationships to the war in Iraq. As the editor of Diversity & Distinction , I provided readers with a taste of this candid-and at times confrontational-discourse. By surmounting many of the prevalent ethnic, racial, and religious divisions on campus, I not only gained valuable experience in cross-cultural dialogue, but also helped to enrich the academic experience of my classmates. I am proud that Diversity & Distinction encouraged students to engage with one another and reap the benefits of living and learning in a diverse community.