Finding story through identity, lens


Students laughed and nodded as Tali Hairston asked them whether they came to Seattle Pacific University knowing how to pronounce “Snoqualmie” or “Puyallup.”

Hairston hoped that students would recall their experiences of first coming to SPU, and through this lens share their unique story.

“We all have lenses. You have yours, and I have mine,” Hairston said. “We might have similar lenses as well as different lenses.”

Over 20 students came to Demaray 150 on Thursday, March 3, to participate in the event “Your Story, My Story” featuring Hairston, director of the John Perkins Center, and Caenisha Warren, coordinator for events and student ministries. Hairston wanted his audience to name one lens, a viewpoint on the world, they learned at SPU, and then flashback to a lens they had that people didn’t understand when they came to SPU, noting development overtime in different communities.

“When we talk about lenses, we always say they exist but don’t know how they are constructed,” Hairston said.

When lenses don’t match with each other, they tend to be rejected, according to Hairston.

He also noted, however, when people cooperate with each other they work constructively on lenses and are aware of how they develop.

Warren noted that how you think, see and construct the world is based on stories.

“Story is something that tells us about yourself, your identities,” Warren said.

Warren hoped students would share, know and learn from others’ stories and use those stories to navigate through relationships, environment and world.

“Story is a natural way to learn and process information [about] how we live and who we are,” Warren said.

According to Warren, physical contact is important to how stories are shaped, where you live and how you live. Stories form by social contact, who you meet and which group you hang out with.

“We are absorbing by those around us,” Warren said.

The stories are often based on five social frameworks: belief system, education, ethnicity or race, gender and money or class. Hairston asked students to rank each of these social frameworks from most to least interested.

Hairston pointed out that we tend to stay away from our least interested lens because we feel uncomfortable and awkward; we don’t know what to say and don’t think much about it.

“We stay away as best as we can, and we called this our boundary or margin,” Hairston said.

According to Hairston, in contrast to our boundary or margin is our core or center, our primary lens. More than 75 percent of the students stood up when Hairston asked if they mark belief system or education as their primary lens.

“Why do we expect this outcome? It’s Christian university,” Hairston said. “The story of the individual and the story of the place often meet together, so the reason why you opt in SPU because it confirms your bias very well.”

The same scenario happened when Hairston asked students if their boundary or margin lens is either ethnicity or race, gender and class or money, more than 75 percent of the students stood up.

“Now you see why we avoid racism, sexism and classism,” Hairston said. “The three things that the world is fighting over.”

Through this activity, Hairston hoped to show students how minority students feel, and why as a Christian institution, we separate the story of Christ from anything that has to do with ethnicity, gender and class.

“We spend all resources talking about Jesus, but we never include stories of minorities,” Hairston said. “We separate faith and ethnicity, gender and class.”

This article was posted in the section News.

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