August 23, 2018

KIM | Do I Belong?

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I am a Korean-American born and raised in California, and I have lived there all my life. Both of my parents are immigrants who graduated from universities in Korea and who provide me with the unconditional support they had never received in their own lives. I am the only child, I speak two languages, I have three little dogs at home, I buy new clothes whenever I get stressed, I love to wrap myself in a blanket taco in the cold winters and I absolutely hate airplane delays.

This is my identity.

On August 21, I attended an orientation event called Identity and Belonging, where I sat in Bailey Hall and listened to the real stories of the neglected. Expectations, pure assumptions and unfair first impressions interfered with interactions within our Cornell community, and some of our fellow students were pushed into a dark corner by family, classmates or society in general without being given a second chance.

At the end of the performances, a panel discussion was held where individuals representing some of many on-campus resources, such as the office of Mental Health and Wellbeing and the office of LGBTQ support, got together and answered questions regarding identity and belonging on campus. One of the speakers advised us to see each other simply as fellow students and to see past physical appearance and superficial identity. I sat there, confused. Why were we being taught how to practice equality, a goal that shouldn’t be so difficult to understand and accomplish? Were our identities really just based off how we appeared to others?

Walking back to my dorm from the Identity and Belonging Project, I realized that my history, my home environment, my weird habits and miscellaneous skills are fragments of my overall identity. It’s not my oversized outfit nor my skin color and facial features. Identity is defined by experiences, personal growth and little knacks like hobbies and favorite foods, and these features are what set us apart instead of our physical costumes.

We live our own, independent lives, decorated with interactions with others and colorful relationships. We indulge in opportunities that spark our passions. We explore our hobbies and find what makes us feel fluttery and invincible. We also feel negativity from obstacles and contradictions, anything that obstructs our motivated force.

While our lives are flourished with these motivations and achievements, we also strive to merely survive by crawling to the dining hall right before it closes to fill the empty stomach, we follow rules and common sense to protect our fragile, squishy bodies from harm and we constantly perform respiration, the power that keeps us alive.

We feel love, compassion, anger, sadness and countless other emotions that sometimes can’t even be described. We all equally feel these emotions, maybe in different contexts, and we all experience and learn throughout our own lives. But ultimately, we still think, feel and survive as human beings. Our experiences make our individual lives beautiful, while our ability to survive unites us in a way that we can’t visibly see, but instead innately connects us as sophisticated animals.

Ultimately, the beauty of these stories and personalities are not laid out in physical appearance like a painting in a museum with no caption, just for assumptions and observation. Every single person has experiences that have shaped them into a vibrant character with a crazy story to tell.

And these differences in experience and personality are not something to hide. They should be fully embraced and appreciated. By strengthening a sense of trust in one another, we have the power to build a close-knit, unbreakable and impactful family. We all have a story to share, and we all have friends we can really connect with. And while sharing similarities in personality, background and physical appearance may be subconsciously more attractive, a story wildly different from your own should be fascinating and intriguing, and there’s so much more to learn and realize from these amazing characters and their stories.

I have a friend from a tiny town in the suburban Midwest and a friend from Hong Kong, a friend who has to pay for their own tuition by taking on three jobs at once, a friend who was bullied throughout their childhood for being “ugly” and a friend who struggles with their religious identity. All of these individuals told a tale so different from my own, and all of these experiences contributed to a larger understanding of the capabilities and strengths of human beings. I begin to not only understand the true identities of others, but I even begin to understand my own identity as I fall into place in relation to others. I begin to feel more at home with the world around me.

What makes humanity so beautiful is the diversity of the people it consists of, and such diversity brings different thoughts, ideas and perspectives to the world. In fact, we can thank the brave individuals throughout history and science for their courage to break the social norm, step out of their comfort zone, expect the unexpected and truly achieve the impossible.

Instead of fixating on differences in color, race, sex, socioeconomic status and other aspects irrelevant to our intimately personal identities as individuals, we need to close our eyes and listen to the stories that create identity. Listen to the creative thoughts from the minds of our brilliant peers. Just listen and learn.

This is what I did when I sat in Bailey Hall during the Identity and Belonging Project. I listened to their voices, which resonated such strength and passion as they spilled their hearts out. I learned with them as I listened and walked their path in their shoes. We, as a community, need to listen with our ears and not our eyes, and appreciate the beautiful diversity Cornell nurtures. It’s been discussed time and time again that there is a tangible bias problem on Cornell’s campus, even catalyzing the creation of the campus climate task force. As some of the ideas proposed in the task force’s reports are incorporated into student life, it’s up to us to listen to the lessons proposed and to incorporate them into our everyday interactions. Additionally, there are various clubs and supportive resources on campus that play an active role in providing relatable content or a new perspective. These organizations open a clear path to achieving a better sense of understanding of our surrounding Cornell community.

If we realize this idea that we are united by our human nature and simultaneously diversified by various experiences, cultures and passions, we can create a warm and welcoming community for each and every individual. We can accelerate our progression towards equality, whether campus-wide or globally, by spreading a positive environment of acceptance and belonging through a level of understanding.

We are fundamentally all equal human beings but also one of a kind. We all bring different stories and cultures, and in the end, we all belong.

Alexia Kim is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at alexiakim@cornellsun.com. Who, What, Where, Why? appears every other Fridaty this semester.