Don’t pass up who you are

Apr 272005
Authors: Kelly Hagenah

Passing. It's a word that for most college students has a great or fun association. Passing a class … passing out drinks … passing out … passing the … well, you all get what I'm saying. But there is also a side to passing that we have all done (unless you're perfect, but then you're boring) that we don't often consider and that is the act of passing of identities.

Identity "passing" is actually a term used by communication scholars, in reference to our "performing identities." It is two part; we either pretend to be something we are not, or we disguise and deceive something that we are. Sadly, passing is something people do quite often, and it's a shame that we live in a world where we have to ignore or imagine a part of our identity. We may do it just once, in a certain context, or we may repeatedly continue this habit, whether it is for our own reasons of safety, to protect our self-esteem, to impress someone, to avoid or create a scene or to avoid being judged.

No one enjoys being judged, but it is something we unconsciously do, especially growing up. Stereotypes, group think, first impressions, assumptions… we judge all the time. While of course by now, hopefully, most of us have the common sense to know that judgments are often proven wrong, it can be a challenge to overcome and by knowing that mindset is out there, people continue to pass.

For the last four years I have been doing a bit of my own passing, and it is something I would like to acknowledge because I have no reason not to. It's not as though I shunned this part of my identity, and it's not as though I would flat out lie about it. I have been active with this piece of me, and if asked I will always admit my dedication to it, as I would if the context called for the need to stand up for it. But let me say this, while I am a proud member of this group, people are narrow-minded. Whether it be because professors would correlate my identity with a former student who exemplified a negative part of the group or because a fellow student would stereotype me as what they thought was typical of the group, it is not as though when I announce this part of my identity I am always welcomed with open arms.

I am a member of the Greek community. Since my very first semester here at CSU, in the fall of 2001, I have been active in a sorority and now I am a proud alumnae. It was one of the greatest assets to my time in college, and if I had to do it all over, I would go Greek again in a heartbeat. In fact, I would be even more involved. Out of all the groups associated with the campus, the Greeks are probably one of the most judged and the least favorite. They are one of the most criticized and the least understood. People love to hate the Greeks. What I don't understand is why it continues to be an ongoing debate, Greek or anti-Greek. Seriously, what is the problem? We don't give non-Greeks a hard time for not joining; we understand that it's not your thing – so why keep criticizing us? How would you feel if people were constantly bashing a part of who you are, especially when they don't understand it completely? Get over it.

Why do we make people feel as though they have to hide a part of who they are? Why do we have to be so closed-minded that when we find out one thing we don't agree with or understand we shun the whole? What gives us the right? This goes way beyond my Greek debate example, into identities that are much more political and personal and therefore harder also. While of course there are always sides of identities we may never respect or understand, (I do know that the stereotypical Greek member does exist and can be obnoxious) we should remember that one or a few examples rarely define an identity as a whole.

Life is short and to spend it judging people enough to make them pass off a piece of who they are is a waste. So remember to keep an open mind when it comes to people you don't understand. And for everyone who has ever passed, remember that while it may be hard, life is also too short to ignore a piece of who we are, and it is too short to allow others to be narrow-minded. Prove them wrong.

Kelly Hagenah is a senior speech communication major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.

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