Appreciating the complexity of identity is our extension of the common idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Many of us are taught that appearances are not reliable indicators of who we are, what we value or our experiences. We take this metaphor a step further. Not only do we aspire to not judge books by their covers, but we also recognize that some of our stories are in constant revision. There may be multiple editions and adaptations to the stories of our lives. Also, as time and context change, so may the meaning of a given story. When we regard one another in a similar way, as books that are in constant revision, it reminds us to stay curious, constantly learn and remain open to change.

Throughout our lives, we may experience significant changes in how we see ourselves, describe ourselves, or our beliefs about what matters most. At Oregon State University, appreciating the complexity of identity may look like an instructor recognizing that the relevance of their curriculum will vary among students from different social group members and that no two students will experience their teaching and lesson plans the same way. It may also look like an administrative assistant remembering that the aspects of life they value most are not valued in the same way by their colleagues or the students they serve.

Individually, learning in this dimension may look like increasing our self-awareness or our awareness of others’ lived experiences. We may improve our ability to communicate across difference and may also move through our work with greater openness and curiosity. As a community, when we learn and grow together, we may mitigate and minimize the harmful impact of bias and stereotypes.


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