Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Is this a trend?

January 10, 2008

I first noticed it at Denison. I’d seen several presidents come and go at Denison and OWU; I’d met Gordon Gee at OSU; but not till Dale Knobel did I notice a President who was equally, it seemed, a scholar, a historian, with a life of his own aside from being President of a university. I noticed this because when he gave speeches, they were infectious and interesting, not the “of course he has to say that” sort of blah-blah blather that, frankly, most Presidents seem sentenced to as part of their punishment for accepting the job. Dale was always exciting to listen to, and a big reason was he was sharing some interesting historic nugget. At commencement, at building dedications, even on the radio during a very tense time of conflict at the college, he was always putting things into context for me, keeping me in the moment as I listened… because of his personal engagement with the issues at hand.

I just assumed it was a Dale Knobel thing. Then I thought about Bill Brown at Cedarville, and the fact I had observed that he played the guitar with the students, he does his own World View videos aside from his office as President. Hmmm. Another President who was a person with an identity apart from his job.

And then I bumped into Amy Gutmann on BigThink, the new YouTube of the college scene. (Her comments on diversity, by the way, are excellent.) Now it really got me thinking.

Her title on the site: “President, UPenn; Political Theorist.” Wow. One would think President, UPenn was enough of a title; but no, Political Theorist was right next to it. As if I gave my title as “President of Ztories, and Father of 4 Daughters and Three Grandsons.” Or better yet, “President, Ztories, and Essayist on Epistemology”. Unrelated fields, one’s a job, one’s a passion. One’s a place of power, the other’s a personal zone of interest. Part of the identity of the person, which does not need any affirmation by others to make it important.

I can’t be the President of UPenn or Denison because I decide to be. Others have to give me that title; and for most of the Presidents I’ve seen, that appeared to be the pinnacle of achievement, to be so recognized.

But I can be a Political Theorist whether I’m the President of UPenn or of Cellblock 59. It is a title I confer upon myself, because of my interest in Politics or History or How we Know Things.

So my hats off to Amy Gutmann and Dale Knobel and Bill Brown, for teaching me something important about leadership. And now I ask all you folks out there in the college cave. Is this sort of personal identity trumping corporate identity a trend? Is something changing? Or has it always existed and I just happened to wake up?

Denison’s Toni King on how colleges can improve

December 9, 2007

Toni KingThis week I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of faculty and students from Denison University. Here’s a golden nugget from Toni King, professor of women’s studies and black studies…

I asked her how an institution gets better/improves and here’s what she said (paraphrasing from memory): “I believe an institution can make itself better if it has a strong sense of identity. It has to know who it is, and be able to articulate what it does well. If it can do that, it can identify how to do those things better. In this way it can avoid trying to be what it is not, and it can get better and better at what it is.”

Identity. Sense of self. In an institutional sense, that’s the core criterion for a brand. Thanks to Toni for words of branding wisdom every college can take to the bank.

Millennials’ webnetworking and ethnicity

November 22, 2007

Interesting research at Northwestern finds a connection between ethnicity and the sites millennials choose for their social networking activity.

The research surveyed just over 1000 freshmen at my daughter’s school, UIC — which is in the top 10 nationally in terms of student ethnic diversity.

Facebook enjoys 80% usage, 75% frequently. MySpace is used by 54%, 40% frequently. Then comes Xanga, Friendster, Orkut, and Bebo, all of them at under 10% usage.

Whites disproportionally choose Facebook, while Hispanics prefer MySpace and Asians disproportionally choose NOT to use MySpace. Asians use Facebook, too, but also choose Xanga in disproportionate numbers. The study found no preference of one site over another among African-American young people. It also found that kids who live with their parents (which happens perhaps more at a commuter school like UIC) are “considerably less likely to use Facebook than their more socially connected peers.”

Even more interesting to me was a very strong correlation between parental education level and the choice of social networking sites:

Students whose parents have a college degree are significantly more likely to use Facebook than those whose parents have some college experience but no degree. MySpace users, on the other hand, are more likely to have parents with less than a high school education than those whose parents had some college experience.

The study confirms what we all know instinctively, that we are all influenced by our nurture…. If we are inclined to get involved, we’ll also get involved online. If we are inclined to hang out in certain circles as children, we’ll be inclined to run in those circles as adults, even if we have opportunities to change our patterns.

My biggest takeaway is this statement by the researcher, Eszter Hargittai: “Everyone points to that wonderful New Yorker cartoon of the dog at the computer telling a canine friend by his side that ‘on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog’. In reality, however, it appears that online actions and interactions should not be viewed as independent of one’s offline identity.” (Emphasis mine).

Another excellent writeup on this report is found on Associated Content.