Raising Awareness of Culture and Identity through the Written Word
Marika Joyce Hashimoto, a student at the Spence School in New York City, put together a book entitled State of Emergency: Reflections on Culture and Identity at Spence, in which she compiled 50 submissions written by Spence students, faculty, and alumnae about racial and cultural identity. Says Marika, "Spence is a small, private girls' school, but there's a lot of diversity. I wanted to help people realize that Spence students come from various backgrounds, in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, class, sexuality, religious identity, etc. Our individual cultures affect how we each perceive our school.
"Most of all, I wanted to encourage more regular discussion of cultural and other differences. Each February, we have a Bias Awareness Day, and I hear people saying, ‘I wish we could have more Bias Awareness Days.' I wanted to show that there is plenty of material to explore throughout the entire year."
To incite fellow Spence students and faculty to write, Marika passed out more than 200 flyers, attended several culture club meetings, and spoke at a school assembly and at a faculty meeting before 30-40 faculty members. At least twice a month for several months, she made announcements and placed ads to encourage students to submit their work.
Marika overcame many obstacles. Her fellow students tended to be extremely busy, so she had to coax people to make submissions. When submissions started coming in, many of the writers requested that their submissions be printed anonymously. Marika learned a great deal about patience and also about persuasion, convincing writers that their submissions would be more powerful if they put their name to their prose.
Marika was featured in the school newspaper and her school's literary magazine, and her project resulted in a great deal of constructive conversation at her school.