OPINION: College serves as a great place to explore new identities


Twenty years from now, we are supposed to look back and say, “Man, those were the years.” We are going to miss our friends, our youth and perhaps most of all, our experiences.

College is the biggest rite of passage teenagers still cling to after their last days identifying as a high school student. There’s an aura of the unknown that surrounds college campuses and towns. To the incoming student, this ambiguity is welcoming and terrifying at the same time.

Within that unknown, we create ourselves over the next four, or maybe five, years. We become, yet again, students.

We explore what it is like to belong to different groups and, subsequently, what it is like to be an active member of society who has to wear pants every day and attend meetings because someone is counting on you to be there. We wear our identities like masks, interchanging them throughout the days.

What if you didn’t ask for an identity? What if you just wanted to float through college without belonging to groups, focusing solely on your studies?

Well, guess what — you’ve just branded yourself as the Library Tenant. You’ll be there more than you will your own room, and I doubt you even mind it. See, choosing to not identify with something is extremely different than completely ignoring the fact that identities exist.

In early 2016, the Family Policy Institute of Washington visited the University of Washington campus. Amid the chaos of LGBT versus public bathrooms, Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, went searching for answers on whether identities are as concrete as they seem, and if you can tell someone they are wrong.

Most of the students took a polite route to respond to Backholm’s chosen identity: a 6-foot-5-inch Chinese woman. Despite standing in front of a white male of moderate height, students inquired about his decision, searching to understand and not to tell Backholm he was mistaken.

“If you thoroughly debated me or explained why you felt that you were 6’5″, I feel like I would be very open to saying that you were 6’5” or Chinese, or a woman,” a UW student said.

However, not all identities are as publicly discussed as gender or sexual orientation or race. Sometimes it may be your major or your extracurricular activities. If you’re undecided, are you wasting your money? If you’re a part of fraternity and sorority life, are you shallow? If you’re a student athlete, are you dumb? Identities come with stereotypes, which often makes people steer clear of belonging to certain groups.

It’s hard to go away to college, especially if you’re going alone, sans your high school support system; sometimes it’s hard to come back if you’ve had a tough year previous. Society today is extremely rooted in identities, but as long as it is something you choose for yourself, I don’t believe identities are detrimental to our overall persona.

If you choose to identify with something you truly believe in — and trust me, it may not be so clear when you first decide to identify with a group — then it becomes a lot easier to ignore those stereotypes.

The crises college students face are necessary facets of growing up, once you realize balancing these identities is more a blessing than a curse, according to Tiffany Hu’s USA Today article, “The quarter-life crisis: A college student’s struggle for identity.”

“There’s no other time in life when we can do everything we do in college and get away with it,” Hu said. “These are the stories that will make our future grandchildren wish they were our best friends. Maybe the best part of this crisis is the reminder that we still have more than three-quarters of our lives to go, and that decisions we make now don’t have the staying power to break us.”

During my freshman year, I was overwhelmed. I was a part of a few groups, but the vast number of groups I had yet to explore scared me. I want to have multiple identities; I want to explore more of myself and more of the world around me. I am excited to return K-State open to new ideas and new identities, while nurturing the ones I attained last year.

Although it is crucial to understand the complexity of our whole selves, it can be useful to focus on individual aspects of identity as we develop greater awareness of our social positions, according to Diane J. Goodman’s Association of American Colleges and Universities article, “Helping students explore their privileged identities.”

“Self-exploration is central to our growth as individuals, our relationships with others, and our ability to promote equity,” Goodman said. “As we work to create and participate in diverse and democratic environments, we need to understand how our own and others’ identities and related social locations affect our lives and our interactions with each other.”

Identities are tricky, but we have years to figure them out. However, whether you’re returning to K-State this fall or coming for your first year, you are a Wildcat. You’re a part of the K-State family and you will always have that identity. You can walk through the hoards of students, professors, visitors and prospective students and know you belong here.

So when you come back to your alma mater in 20 years, you can go to the Quad and follow the worn pathways of thousands of tired feet shuffling to morning classes. You can go to the football stadium and marvel in its empty quiet. You can visit all the places where you belonged during those crucial years of early adulthood, and you can be thankful for those places, those people and those memories.

To me, belonging is the best part.