I asked Natasha Chang to share with us part of her story, and to talk about why she decided to do her work as a faculty member and Commons dean. In this week’s post, Natasha shares her experience about finding a sense of identity and provides a very personal and enlightening viewpoint. As always, I welcome your comments and observations.
—Shirley M. Collado
This year, as I took up my new position as dean of Brainerd Commons, I was very aware of embarking on yet another hybrid endeavor in my life, that is assuming the dual roles of Commons dean and professor.
I’ve always defined myself in hybrid or multiple terms throughout my life. As a child I straddled three cultures simultaneously—Serbian, Korean, and American—experiencing them as an insider and an outsider, never fully being part of any world, yet never fully being able to disassociate myself. I’ve always expressed myself and found my identity reflected in a variety of languages: the accented and idiosyncratic English of my two first-generation immigrant parents; the American slang of the kids I grew up with; my mother’s Serbian that she passed down to me; my father’s Korean that still remains a mystery to me; and my passion, Italian, the language that became my love and my life’s work.
At one time, I desperately wanted to belong simply and fully to only one culture, to identify unequivocally with a single group, to feel like a full-fledged citizen rather than a masquerader, and to be able to respond to the question “Where are you from?” without embarking on a complex explanation. What I have learned over the years, however, is that multiplicity, hybridity, and difference are positions of unique strength and power. My background has taught me to be attuned to multiple perspectives, to be comfortable not “knowing it all,” to seek compromise between even the most divergent of positions, to reserve judgment based on appearance, and to have faith in my own values.
Returning to my current combined role of Commons dean and faculty member, I can say without a doubt that I’ve found my hybrid line of work personally satisfying since it allows me to advise students, give support, and provide guidance, while at the same time continuing to teach in the classroom and pursue my ongoing research projects. In other words, it allows me to productively dialogue with and bridge two campus cultures: the academic culture and the culture of residential life.
But there is a larger and more important point to be made here. In my eyes, the hybrid position I occupy represents but one example of the strength diversity can bring to our community. By diversity, I mean diversity broadly defined. I am speaking not only of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and—well, you fill in the blank—but of the many overlapping and complex ways in which we find our identity. Taking inspiration from the recent Midd OUT day, in which the organizers thoughtfully engaged the common phrase “coming out,” I’d like to suggest that we actively think about what diversity means here at Middlebury. As I see it, diversity is not an issue that belongs only to other people; it is an issue that is relevant to everyone, period. This year—my first in a new job—I’ve set a challenge for myself that I’d like to pass on to each of you: to identify events (talks, meetings, conferences, classes, groups, etc.) that are a bit out of my comfort zone, and then immerse myself. I’ve had a great year of learning so far, and I hope you do too.
—Natasha V. Chang
Dean of Brainerd Commons