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April 7, 2018
Religion, upbringing, our interests and the people around us. There is a diverse range of factors that make up our identity, or who we are. As we grow and mature, from our childhood to teenage years to adulthood, we gradually realize and embrace our identity, discovering and developing new interests and qualities. Some parts of one’s identity may be fixed from a young age, such as a passion for soccer or one’s Asian American culture, while others may develop as one gains new knowledge, such as political standings and future aspirations.
Cultural aspects of one’s identity are often developed starting at a young age, and are heavily influenced by external factors such as family ideals, location, religious beliefs and traditions. On the other hand, individuals have more control over other aspects of their identities, such as their goals for the future, and their personal beliefs. Education and experience can have a strong influence on one’s morals, values and even political beliefs. Additionally, whether one is strongly drawn to a specific career path at a young age or realizes what one’s calling is after trying various activities in high school and college, aspirations are crucial in shaping identity.
While living at the forefront of technological advancement, individuals are able to express their identities through their views and comments on social media platforms, connecting with countless people from diverse backgrounds with their own perspectives. Inevitably, while the convenience of social media allows one to easily share his or her opinions, social media platforms often allow users distort their identities while hiding behind chat boxes or anonymous usernames.
Despite the wide variety of individual identities, politicians often attempt to target particular qualities of racial, ethnic or religious groups as a whole in order to promote specific policies. Their generalization of identity into certain groups can result in the exclusion of minorities within these groups, leaving their voices and opinions unheard. Furthermore, politicians’ focus on identity politics can often detract from the main goals of their campaign.
The Epic delves deeper into the factors contributing to the development of one’s identity, politicians’ misguided focus on identity in politics and the growing role of social media in conveying identity.
Lynbrook is full of dreamers: as students grow into strong adults they become involved in a variety of careers and causes in the hopes of leaving their mark on the world. Though these goals were formed under different influences and interests, such as parents, peers and extracurricular activities, they often drive what shapes students’ identities.
When senior Diana Magnusson was eight years old, she began repeating the lines of Dr. Brennan from “Bones.” Her fascination with acting started to grow from there so she enrolled in dance and singing classes outside of school. In addition, she’s the current vice-president of the Thespian Club and takes Drama Honors at Lynbrook.
“Acting is something that really drives me, because I find it fascinating,” said Magnusson. “I love watching movies or shows, and talking about the development of the character, the lighting and set changes for hours. I know that’s the world I want to be a part of.”
Magnusson hopes to continue pursuing her passion in acting by moving to New York after high school to seek some of the best training in the world at The Acting Studio. She plans to dedicate herself completely to this dream.
“My goal is to just get myself out there in the world because that’s a really important thing,” said Magnusson. “If you go into acting at all and you have a Plan B, then you shouldn’t go into the industry because there are millions of other people who are truly passionate about it. Acting is all they want to do and they can’t picture doing anything else.”
Sophomore Aaron Tai grew up with a different dream: playing basketball. He played for six years, including playing on his middle school’s basketball team. While he decided to take a break from basketball to pursue other clubs and interests, he still goes to the park almost every week to play pickup games.
After taking computer applications, a business course offered at Lynbrook, he was encouraged by his business teacher Leslie Robledo to pursue a career in sports analytics, a job which incorporates both sports and business.
“I was drawn to becoming a sports analyst since it’s a way to connect to the sports that I love without playing it,” said Tai. “[The job] allows me to combine my passion for the sport to the business side.”
Tai also participates in DECA where he takes part in two events: team decision making and creating a business plan for fashion merchandising company Gymboree.
Junior Tanvi Narvekar’s goal is to become a doctor and she is leaning toward specializing in general surgery. The summer before her freshman year, she began volunteering at the Veterans Hospital. During one of Narvekar’s shifts, a woman walked in, not knowing who or where she was.
“I just felt the need to help her,” said Narvekar. “Eventually her husband came and they reunited. The feeling I got from being able to help her fostered my love of medicine.”
Aside from volunteering at the Veterans Hospital, Narvekar is also involved in many health clubs at Lynbrook such as Health Education of Lynbrook (HEAL) and the Pre-Medical club.
“What motivates me the most is thinking of all the victims of epidemics and diseases,” said Narvekar. “The possibility of helping them in the future if I dedicate myself to my passion inspires me.”
Aspirations are important to the development of one’s identity because they shape his or her goals. They provide an individual with long-term goals that benefit one’s life, giving one motivation to become successful. Measures of aspirations have been linked to academic and educational achievements. In addition to achievements, aspirations allow for a more clear focus, effective use of time, and sharpness in decision making.
In a study conducted by Professor Gary MacPherson from the University of Melbourne in 1997, young children were asked for their commitment plan to their new instrument. The study revealed that children with long term commitment plans outperformed the childrens with short term commitment plans, linking aspirations to future success.
The diverse dreams among Lynbrook students ultimately contribute to the environment of the school. Whether it be aspiring actresses, hopeful sports analysts or future doctors, high school allows for students to cultivate themselves into different journeys in the future.
He frowns at his choices on the ballot before him. Despite having heard numerous speeches about the candidates’ platforms, he only feels disconnected from the issues presented and debated, which have nothing to do with his life. The inflammatory statements hurled from each party are merely white noise. He reluctantly checks the box next to the candidate who he has heard the most about online and through television. With a sigh of disappointment, he submits his ballot and walks away. Politics have become ___ in which millions of voters struggle to find their place within the changing narrative of identity politics.
Identity politics assume that groups who adhere to a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social or cultural identity are monoliths, large and powerful organizations whose members’ opinions are not easily changed and whose members do not consider the opinions of the people the organization affects. In other words, people are separated into groups based on their physical characteristics instead of their individual beliefs. Social organizations are formed based on factors such as religion, race, sex, disability and education, and have sparked political movements such as the feminist movement, the gay liberation movement and the hashtag BlackLivesMatter.
The exclusion of certain minorities under the umbrella of one overarching group often makes them feel like outsiders within their community. As an example, many believe that African Americans experience systematic racism; thus, certain politicians assume that all African Americans lack civil rights. To judge people on their immutable characteristics—skin color, sexuality, etc.—is actually the essence of what prejudice really is.
“I feel that [identity politics are] unnecessary because someone’s sexuality is private and doesn’t affect others,” said freshman Austin Tong. “Someone’s personal religious beliefs shouldn’t infringe upon another person’s rights as a citizen.”
By emphasizing these ideological differences between minorities, identity politics are inherently prejudiced in their tendency to categorize people based on their physical appearance rather than their personalized beliefs and experiences.
Instead of focusing on issues that affect everyone in the United States, such as taxes, social security and candidate transparency, the Democratic party continues to prioritize issues that polarize their voting base. While discussions about race and privilege may not appeal to everyone, many people are interested in voting for a politician who explains how they are reliable and what concrete economic policies they plan to implement.
“The Democrats,” said Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
The Democratic party, however, has seen an increase in popularity when its politicians focus on quantifiable issues. On Jun. 20, democrat Jon Ossoff lost the special election by 4 points to republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s right-leaning Sixth District, but his actions inspired a change in the area. By refraining from using words such as “racist” and “xenophobic,” Ossoff avoided using identity politics and created an open atmosphere to talk the economy, immigration and safety. His new perspective caught the eyes of as many as 12,000 volunteers within the district, and many more from around the country.
More recently, democrat Conor Lamb won a special House election in the state’s 18th Congressional District, where he ran a campaign that focused on social security and union rights.
Lamb’s win signaled a change in the democratic party’s outreach strategy, since its support for a moderate candidate shows a gradual shift away from identity politics. Rather than funding a candidate whose platform centered around social issues, its support for an economic platform shows its successful attempt to appeal to a broader range of Americans. While this change in platform may not appeal to all democrats, it helps the party garner support from more people.
“The first step in adapting is to accept that fact that things will change and that we have no option, but to embrace the change,” said senior Anushka Srivastava. “The earlier you realize that, the better it is. Since I have relocated numerous times over my 17 years, I have gotten used to moving on. I have always tried to keep a positive outlook and that has really helped me adjust.”
Although identity politics allow certain minorities to have their voices heard on a national platform, the idea that people vote based on their race or gender simply distracts politicians from the main issues at hand.
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Notifications: 22 new chats. Status: online. Tap – tap – tap – tap – click: “message sent.” Tick-tick. Five seconds pass. “Message received, typing.” Only the computer can see the real-life image of the person behind the screen — a hooded recluse of a person manufacturing personality and chat lines on the keyboard, which begs the question: are the recluse and the online user really the same person?
“Online, people are not face to face, so it is easy to present a more idealized, ‘perfected’ image of oneself and one’s life,” said Julie Albright, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern California. “One can photoshop, tune or filter photos… One can curate one’s life to show only the good sides. I call this ‘the virtual morrow.’ Students end up comparing themselves to others looks and lives that really don’t exist.”
A person’s online and real-life personalities may coincide and differ in various aspects. Although the relationship between online and in-person identities has been a relatively recent scope of study, numerous researchers have observed a correlation between one’s personality traits and online behavior. For instance, a 2013 study at the North Carolina State University found that certain personality traits, such as extraversion and agreeableness, were reflected in the content of one’s social media posts. A 2016 study published in the “Frontiers in ICT” also revealed that one’s browsing history could determine the difference between the online habits of introverts and extroverts. From an analysis of only a brief 30 minutes of participants’ browsing histories, researchers noticed that extroverts tend to use social media to expand their circle of friends and reach, while introverts spend time on the platforms to gain possibly lacking interaction with other people.
Users also have the option to remain anonymous on the internet, allowing them to project a version of themselves that they may not be able to in -person. As a result, introverts may be more inclined to behave more extroverted online. Furthermore, social media platforms and other online communication channels, excluding video or voice calling, allow people to project idealized versions of themselves and hide their negative aspects. While in-person interactions require immediate responses and real-time reactions, online relationships can be developed over different time zones, and users have time to think about their response before replying.
“Usually, when you’re interacting with someone face to face, you can have more deep and meaningful conversations, because you’re actually seeing them, and you can see their reaction,” said junior Samiksha Patil. “But when you’re online… there’s kind of this wall between you [and the other user], and you don’t really know what they’re saying.”
Prior to the emergence of the digital age in the late 2000s, online behavior may not have encapsulated our real-life identities. As social media platforms have become increasingly popular, however, our internet habits and personas have become intertwined into our daily lives: the number of internet users has increased over tenfold from 1999 to now, with about 3.9 billion total current users worldwide.
Despite controversies regarding whether online behavior influences one’s real-life persona, studies have proven that people’s online behavior or activity may affect their relationships or friendships with others. For example, cyber-aggression, an online relationship-based phenomenon in which an individual may intentionally or unintentionally inflict emotional harm on another individual, may translate into physical aggression in real life.
“When online, there is what’s called relative anonymity, meaning one can hide behind a screen, which emboldens people to say things they would never say face to face,” said Albright. “It is easy then for school events to be taken to the online arena, where out-and-out harassment can take place, or more covert bullying, in the form of releasing private pictures or sharing private, embarrassing conversations.”
In a study conducted by the University of Kansas, researchers customized two mock Facebook profiles: one that included a high degree of self-disclosure, with many personal pictures and status updates, such as “my boss just fired me,” and one profile with a significantly lower degree of self-disclosure, with neutral statuses, such as “nice weather today.” Participants of the study were asked to imagine that one of the profiles belonged to their significant other and were then asked their relationship intimacy and satisfaction. Outcomes demonstrated that disclosing large amounts of information online about oneself resulted in lower rates of satisfaction between romantic couples, proving how online behavior may potentially influence relationships with others.
As social media platforms such as Facebook become an increasingly integral part of our lives, disparities between how we discern ourselves online and our behavior in real-life shape not only how others perceive us, but how we perceive ourselves.
From a young age, most Lynbrook students have been raised and conditioned in a competitive environment. In school, the pressure is on, and at home, even more so. With many parents hailing from Asian backgrounds, the Bay Area culture is rife with values of hard work, perseverance and competition that permeate each aspect of students’ lives and contribute to what many call a Bay Area “bubble.”
At first glance, Bay Area high schools may seem like all other typical American high schools. Students take AP classes, join clubs and sports teams and participate in school events like homecoming and prom. A closer look, however, reveals several prominent differences that distinguish schools in the Bay Area due to the local culture.
Common conversations around Lynbrook provide insight into this unique culture. When walking under the wings of building overhangs, students can be heard joking about the burden of work and studies, not to mention the pressure from those most influential in their lives — their family members. Students complain about test grades, gossip about the SAT scores of their peers and compare the amount of sleep they get.
At one point, it begins to become a competition — survival of the fittest — the word “fittest” exchangeable for “smartest,” “most hard working” and other titles “ideal” Bay Area students should have on their trophy shelves. The competition even extends to vying for minor, trivial titles such as “most sleep deprived.” Lynbrook’s culture runs rampant with competition and hunger for first place, no matter what the categories may be.
At home, most students face high expectations, a constant source of stress and anxiety. Much of this pressure comes from parents, many of whom emigrated from Asian countries that demand academic excellence from students.
“A lot of Lynbrook culture revolves around STEM,” said freshman Amory Gao. “This has to do a lot with families of Asian descent because they mostly came here for STEM opportunities, and they want their children to be successful. I feel like nothing else is really an option for me because of the way my parents think and how that’s influenced the way I think. So, I think [this culture] has a pretty big impact on what I want to pursue during high school and what I feel like I have to pursue later on.”
Of course, no student is left untouched by such a harsh culture. Like many others attending competitive Bay Area high schools, Lynbrook students are influenced by both their school and home environments. They find their identities shaped by their peers and the expectations that they hold.
A freshman who enters Lynbrook confident about himself may find his self-assurance worn away by too frequently comparing his grades and test scores with those of others. On the other hand, a quiet, introverted girl may find her place in speech and debate and grow into an outspoken senior by the end of her high school career. No matter how people change throughout their high school careers, however, it is undeniable that their identities are shaped by the people, the values — quite simply, the culture — around them.
When students graduate and leave for college or take a gap year, this still holds true. Their identities undergo yet another transformation as they enter drastically different environments from the bubble they leave behind. The freedom away from home allows many to discover new aspects of their identity.
“There are a lot of opportunities for you to discover yourself at college,” said Lynbrook Class of 2017 alumnus and current Carnegie Mellon University student Alex Xu. “For example, I’m part of an acapella group, and I’m also in a dance group. Once you get out of the Bay Area bubble, you really start to open up your mind, explore and have fun.”
In the process of becoming immersed in a different culture, some find that their experiences away from the Bay Area, or just away from Lynbrook in general, shed new light on familiar matters, whether it be college majors or the future. Being among different people allows many to make realizations that they would never have drawn at Lynbrook.
“[During my gap year] my worldview was broken, and now I’m rebuilding it,” said Lynbrook Class of 2017 alumnus Will Shan, who is currently taking a gap year before he begins studies at Stanford University in the fall and also volunteered at a communal farm in France the summer before his senior year. “When I began this gap year, I thought it’d be really nice if I discovered what major I wanted to pursue so that going to college, I’d know what I want to study. Now, I’m not thinking that at all. Now, what I’m thinking is, ‘Why does it matter what major I take? What will actually have relevance on my life? Why does learning have to occur on paper or at school?’ At Lynbrook, I never thought beyond one week. Now that I’m taking this gap year and interacting with much older people, I’ve started thinking about my life in terms of years. I did not know all that I did not know before, and because I now know what I did not know, it makes me think much more long-term, and it makes me think much more about the type of life I want to lead.”
For Lynbrook students, there lies a question: who are you? Identity is no easy concept to grasp; it is perpetually in a fluctuating state, easily influenced by changing circumstances. What is one’s identity, however, throughout the change? Who is that person, underneath all the grades and critiques in red pen? The answer lies in the individual. Yes, culture plays an important role in shaping identity, but it is ultimately up to the confident freshman or the shy girl to define his or her own identity. Culture can only change an individual as much as he allows it to change himself.