The group had gathered on George Street, right outside Porters Lodge, when someone asked what the Greek inscription on the building’s façade meant. Samantha Anyim, then a sophomore tour guide with the Charleston 40, paused before she answered: “Know Thyself.”
“Here I was, giving this tour to prospective students and their parents, telling them that, when you come to the College of Charleston, you will learn about yourself, and I realized, ‘But I don’t know myself,’” recalls the senior Honors College psychology major, who decided then and there to concentrate less on giving tours of the College and more on herself. “Since then, I’m happy to say, I have come to know myself.”
And, says Anyim, she finally loves who she is, too.
“I always struggled with my identity,” says the Jamaica native whose family immigrated to the United States when she was 9. “I knew I was definitely not straight at an early age, but I didn’t really understand or accept my own sexuality. Mostly because I came from a place where homophobia runs rampant; Jamaica is very conservative in that way. So, my sexual orientation was an identity marker that caused me to want to hide. I struggled on so many levels. It caused me so much anxiety.”
That anxiety began to subside, however, once she got to CofC and saw the level of acceptance on campus, especially within the LGBTQ community.
“When I got here, I so wanted to reject the girl inside me. Now I’m friends with her,” says Anyim, who has volunteered as an after-school tutor for the community development nonprofit Metanoia, served as the service co-chair for honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta, interned as a patient advocate for Coastal Connections and worked as an undergraduate research assistant for MUSC’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Services Department during her time at the College. “My growth is huge. I’m literally blown away by it. It has completely changed how I self-identify.”
It has also informed the research she’s presenting at the Department of Psychology’s Student Awards and Research Day, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Held from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Stern Center Ballroom, this event will include an awards ceremony, a poster session and four student research presentations, including Anyim’s. The other psychology majors discussing their findings will be Anthony Dein, Jacob Peller, and Tess Shymanski and Grace Anne West.
In collaboration with Jen Wright, associate professor of psychology, Anyim’s bachelor’s essay research project, “The Intersectionality of Race and Sexual Orientation: The Intersecting Effects of Integral Social Factors on Discrimination Burden and Implicit Bias,” received a Major Academic Year Support grant from the College’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Program to investigate negative attitudes based on minority identity markers like gender, race, sexual orientation and religion.
“I am passionate about this research because I recognize now that I do describe myself using multiple minority identity markers – and that they aren’t a hindrance to me. Instead, they have helped me develop into the open-minded individual who wants to help other individuals who are struggling,” says Anyim, who created a series of scenarios and profiles combining various identity markers and then asked more than 300 student-participants to read the scenarios and answer questions. Their reactions to the same scenarios with different profiles were then compared and contrasted to determine how the minority identity markers affected their attitudes.
What she found was that negative attitudes increased with every minority identity marker that was added to a scenario – and that the biases were pervasive throughout.
“From the beginning, it’s been my hope that the results would lend more insight and possible solutions for bridging the racial and social gaps in our society. I know I’m only one person, but I really do want to change the world,” she says. “I plan on fulfilling that dream, to give hope to people. To let them know, it’s OK to be who you are. To give them an appreciation for those differences.”
Ultimately, that’s what she hopes will come from her research, which she plans to continue as she pursues a graduate degree in mental health counseling at Columbia University in New York City.
“The main goal is to do practical work with people, and help them peel apart those layers and show them that it’s OK to be vulnerable,” she says, adding that that vulnerability is something she learned to embrace at the College. “The College of Charleston has let me come into my own. Now, I can confidently tell people, ‘Look, becoming who you want to be is always just one step away.’”
And, for Anyim and many CofC students who walk through Porters Lodge every year, that one step begins at: “Know Thyself.”
Featured photo: Samantha Anyim (Photo by Heather Moran)