Without dignity, identity is erased

Laura Hillenbrand


If there’s one thing that I’ve been struggling with ever since I started my senior thesis, it has been how to bring my multiple perspectives to the table and respect all of what I’ve received up until now. At the beginning of the semester, our TA said that when he worked on his paper he looked at it from two different perspectives. First, as a student from UC Berkeley, and then as a student from San Francisco State. My experience has followed a parallel path.

Having first attended Seattle University, then Ohlone College, and then San Francisco State University, each place has offered me something unique that I’ve been able to use in my own life. Each place had its own goal, its own mission. While Ohlone College and San Francisco State have been easier to reconcile, I’ve struggled to figure out how my Seattle University education fits into the bigger picture.

I found this quote in today’s Lenten reflection, and it was almost like it was meant to be there and meant for me to see it.


My senior thesis is about the construction and reinforcement of subnational youth identities after reunification. One thing that I’ve had to come to terms with has been the divide between "real life" and the ideal “social justice” way of looking at things. 

Where does social justice fit into all these theories about international politics? What can I offer that doesn’t just repeat the cynical mistakes that each perspective has made? What can I say, without sounding too idealistic or naïve?


My paper may seem just about theories, about the ways that people construct their identities, about looking at the other, and introducing new ways to reinterpret past traditions. But there’s a catch. If one doesn’t look at what the people are actually doing, if one doesn’t stop to listen, then theories can fall apart. They are, in a sense, only used to interpret things that have already happened.

Reflecting on this quote, identity is tied to someone’s dignity. If a larger identity refuses to recognize a smaller identity’s dignity, then the identity of the smaller state is affected too. Similarly, if a group loses its own identity and dignity, what’s to say that the individuals in that group won’t lose theirs as well? I think the social justice component of my paper would be to somehow contribute to this understanding of identity as tied to a person’s dignity, via the use of international constructivist theory. 

Because when one talks about a closer reunification of Hong Kong to China, when one talks about a closer reunification of countries that have long been separate from each other (in Cyprus, Korea, etc.), they are talking about a situation where both sides, especially the larger identity, respect the dignity of the other. Where the identity of both sides is kept in some way, shape, or form, not erased. Not in a way that hurts, confuses, or even abuses the other side, but in a way that brings together, recognizes, and reinforces the dignity of all.

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