The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Ora Cullen '24 RGLP Reflection

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Culture is a complicated and multi-dimensional construct involving myriad identities; real and imagined. Broad concepts such as National Identity are often built upon stereotypes revolving around nationality, country of birth, country of residence, language or place affiliation, but also include ideas about race, ethnicity, religion etc. More specific constructs, such as ideas of community or family culture also touch upon these larger ideas but also include elements of privilege, perceived ability, gender identity, birth order, and sibling interaction.

Culture, in its broadest sense, has framed all of my relationships. Just like every human on this planet, I am unique. It is impossible for me to be interacting with someone who has the exact blend of linguistic, geographic, economic and cultural influences as I do. I am most definitely multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, agender/non-binary, so I have come to reject the reductionary binary view of things. Although I consider myself a member of the EU, I do not have a ‘typical national affiliation’ to a specific country, despite speaking multiple member country languages. Nor do I have a rural or suburban American life to inform me personally as I confront the stereotypes that come with a passport from yet another country (foreign to me) in which I have chosen to pursue my education.

Throughout most of my nearly twenty-one years, I have been navigating cultures, experiencing “truths”, living pluralities and ambiguities, accepting uncomfortable situations and awkward pauses. The invasive question: “what are you?” rather than “who are you?” has been posed as long as I can remember. My personal culture has been most influenced by the sense of place I call “home” but which I have come to discover is more broadly interpreted as “family culture” by other individuals who have dared to unpack their cultural baggage and share deeply with me as I attempt to do the same.

As with many politically and economically motivated social constructs, Culture is so large, so pervasive and ever-present that it becomes the ‘visible invisible’. Personally, I am so used to Culture being an ever-present undercurrent in my life as I code-switch and slide between the many communities of which I am a member, that I never took the time to consciously reflect and analyze how deeply culture impacts how people interact. Being a part of RGLP has given me the vocabulary (in English!) to express differences and the phenomena surrounding multicultural interactions new ways. Reflecting back, RGLP has allowed me to overlay complex thoughts over the simplest personal memories that contribute to my personal understanding. Through this program, I have discovered more depth in all of my relationships, and this depth has provided me with greater understanding. Understanding won’t change the past, but it has allowed me to grow (in understanding and empathy) and acknowledge past experiences in new ways. A specific education to confront and acknowledge bias, to help people overcome fears of difference has been empowering. I only wish that I hadn’t discovered it in the context of a capitalist tool!

Already, I am using RGLP lessons in the context of other Dartmouth communities. Working through OPAL and DIJE, I am deliberately applying techniques and exercises to confront bias and to foster a sense of belonging for all people who wish to engage and broaden their understanding of culture and constructed community.

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