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Emerging Leaders and WILD Explore Identity Issues

students identity workshop

One’s values and identity, understanding where we come from, how we distinguish ourselves, and how we personify our identity are important—not only to help students grow, but help them develop as leaders. Those were the topics recently explored by members of Women in Leadership Development and Emerging Leaders—two student groups—during a workshop on values, culture, and identity.

The workshop began with GCU Dean of Students Amani Jennings asking each participant in the workshop to write 10 words to describe themselves—each word on a different card—as he described the building blocks of VITALS. The abbreviation stands for Values, Interests, Temperament, Activities, Life mission, and Strength, all factors that make up our culture, he said.

Marci Mazzarotto, Ph.D., an assistant professor of digital communication at GCU, teaches an Intercultural Communications class this semester. She also discussed how culture makes a significant impact on a student’s life. Students not only have their own identities, but perform—not on stage but in front of others—multiple identities at one given time, she said, depending on whether they interact with friends, family, professors or others.

Age, race, gender, and even region can play a strong role in identity types, said both Dean Jennings and Dr. Mazzarotto.

However, just because a group of people may share a similar identity does not mean they should all be labeled as the same, said Dr. Mazzarotto. Incorrect use of labels can lead to stereotyping, she explained, using the LGBTQ community as an example.

“It is really important to understand there is an incredible amount of diversity within that group,” she said. “Otherwise, if we just lump everyone together, we are stereotyping. We can get into this dangerous idea of pointing fingers at a group and not understanding that there is a lot of nuance and individuality within that group, even if they share a collective identity or collective values.”

Dean Jennings added that “there will come a time where a value that you believe in will be challenged in your college career. This pattern interruption will cause one’s beliefs to be challenged, whether it be good or bad,” he said. “While it will be a challenge, it is a learning experience all students must face.”

Opening one’s mind is part of the college experience, Dr. Mazzarotto added.

“Getting out of your comfort zone is super important because that is how you challenge yourself to have a different experience,” she said. “It is part of the process of really growing as a person.”

Story contributed by GCU Digital Communication major Dennis Gribben ’19; photo courtesy of Quincy Kendall Sutherland.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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