Circles of My Self
Why do it?
This activity helps students refute stereotypes about themselves. In doing so, it also helps them empathize with the stereotypes experienced by women in the environmental justice movement, and to imagine how these stereotypes impact their activism. Because of the personal nature of this activity, it is best done in groups of 20 or fewer.
- “Circles of My Self” handout, one copy per student.
- One environmental justice story for each group of 3–5 students.
The key to this activity is the process of examining one’s own identity and the stereotypes associated with that identity, then having one’s own stereotypes challenged through others’ stories and stereotype challenges. Encourage participants to think about the stereotypes they apply to people and to make a conscious effort to think more deeply about them, eventually eliminating them.
As with most activities, it can be especially effective if you participate while you facilitate. If you are willing to share your own experiences, participants are more likely to feel open to share their own.
It is crucial, especially for the final part of the activity when participants are sharing their stereotypes, to allow for silence. People will be hesitant to share initially, but once the ball starts rolling, the activity carries a lot of energy. Allow time at the end for participants to talk more about whatever stereotype they shared.
- Pass out one “Circles of My Self” handout for each student. Ask students to pair up with somebody they do not know well. Invite them to introduce themselves, then follow the steps below (also written on their handouts). Give instructions for steps 2, 3 and 4 at the same time. Allow 8-10 minutes for participants to complete all three steps, but remind them with 2 minutes remaining that they must fill in the stereotype sentence.
- Ask participants to write their names in the center circle. They should then fill in each satellite circle with a dimension of their identity they consider to be among the most important in defining themselves. Give them several examples of dimensions that might fit into the satellite circles: female, athlete, Jewish, brother, educator, Latino, middle class, etc.
- In their pairs, have participants share two stories with each other. First, they should share a story about a time they felt especially proud to be associated with one of the identifiers they wrote into their handout. Then ask them to share a story about a time it was particularly painful to be associated with one of the identities they chose.
- Next, participants will share a stereotype they have heard about one dimension of their identity that fails to describe them accurately. Ask them to complete the sentence at the bottom of the handout by filling in the blanks: “I am (a/an) ____________ but I am NOT (a/an) _____________.” Provide your own example, such as “I am Arab, but I’m not a terrorist.” Probe the group for reactions to each other’s stories. Ask whether anyone heard a story he would like to share with the group. (Make sure the person who originally told the story has granted permission to share it with the entire group.)
- Tell participants that the next step will involve individuals standing up and reading their stereotype statement. You can either simply go around the room or have people stand up and read their statements in no order. Make sure that participants are respectful and listening actively for this step, as students are making themselves vulnerable by participating. Start by reading your own statement. This part of the activity can be extremely powerful if you introduce it energetically. It may take a few moments to start the flow of sharing, so allow for silent moments.
- After everyone has shared his or her stereotype challenge, announce that anyone who would like to share another one may do so. Model by sharing another one about yourself.
- Several questions can be used to process this activity:
- How do the dimensions of your identity that you chose as important differ from the dimensions other people use to make judgments about you?
- Did anybody hear somebody challenge a stereotype that you once believed? If so, what was it?
- How did it feel to be able to stand up and challenge your stereotype?
- There is usually some laughter when somebody shares common stereotype such as “I am Arab, but I am not a terrorist” or “I am a teacher, but I do have a social life.” If so, say something like, “I heard several moments of laughter. What was that about?”
- Where do stereotypes come from?
- How can we eliminate them?
- Divide students into groups of three to five and hand out copies of one environmental justice story to each group. Make sure that there are a variety of stories being passed out to different groups, but feel free to have more than one group read a story if needed. Ask students to read the stories to themselves and then discuss the questions below as a group.
- What “circles” of identity do you see represented in the woman in the story?
- Do you see any stereotypes imposed upon the woman in the story? If so, how does she respond to them?
- Does one part of her identity seem to affect her activism more than another? How so?
- Bring the class back together to share highlights from their small group discussions.
- Encourage students to consider valued aspects of their environmental identity in Part 1 of the exercise. For example, do they consider themselves an environmentalist, a naturalist, a vegetarian, a backpacker, a sustainable food systems advocate, a political activist…?
- Part 1 of this teaching tool is drawn from the “Circles of My Multicultural Self” activity available at EdChange.org through Awareness Activities on the EdChange Multicultural Pavilion.