The Smith Center honors, supports and uplifts the diverse identities that our students bring to campus and to the Northfield community, as well as the diverse identities of the many community members we engage with through ACE courses. Through the Smith Center, ACE strives to center community voices in its work and practice acting in solidarity with others.
Identity and Civic Engagement
We encourage all students to respect, collaborate, and reflect in ACE courses about their identities, positionality, and the power dynamics that exist when we engage intentionally with others. Especially during young adulthood, identities may shift, evolve, or become more/less salient.
How can you invite others to bring their whole selves to this work and validate their identities and lived experiences?
How will you plan to show up with your whole self, too?
To enhance and support your experience, we invite you to deeply reflect on your identity and how your – and others’ – identities impact engagement in the communities that we may–or may not–feel a sense of belonging. Identities provide a link between ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. Identity involves both how we see ourselves and how others perceive us. This can lead to a tension between how much control we internally have over constructing our identities and how much power or constraint is exercised externally over our identities. Consider how concepts of service and community have shaped your identity and how a specific course could be impacted by your various identities: In exploring who we are and how we realize ourselves, we often identify other people as “similar” or “different” from us based on their own complex identities. Some differences in identity are clearly marked by institutional power, such as national identity. Other identities are more fluid, such as sexuality. Regardless, we must understand that identities are constructed from our active engagement with them and the tension between human agency and social structures. As multifaceted people with many identities, we must realize that the labels we use to identify ourselves contain omissions and cannot fully accommodate the personal investment we have in our identities, nor the multiple identities we have.
Often, experience with identity can be marked by conflict. In engaging in ACE work, we must strive to interact ethically and empathetically with individuals with identities that may have tension with our own identities. As a community, we must learn from each other’s experiences and expertise. Taking the time to unlearn stereotypes and stigmas about identities is crucial in community engagement. Striving to be informed and open-minded individuals is necessary for optimizing collaboration in ACE work.
Because creating inclusive classroom experiences and mutually beneficial community engagement is on all of us, we also invite community partners into the process of reflection and feedback on their engagement with students, faculty, and staff. It is important to examine how our multiple identities intersect and may become more or less prevalent in the different spaces we enter or as we engage with others through our ACE experiences. Knowing that we all have biases, we recognize that there have been times where St. Olaf students, faculty, and staff have committed harm in their work to our community partners and community members, and also times when the partner or community members have done harm to students, faculty, and staff. We seek to address these harms through open, transparent communication with partners and appropriate follow-up action with affected individuals.
The ACE Office believes that reflection, in general, is crucial for meaningful ACE experiences, but that deep and ongoing reflection is absolutely necessary when we are working for positive social change and antiracism.