Embracing Diverse Identities at Trinity College: The Tradition of the Flag Project Celebration

6 min read

Lilly Mellitz ’26

Contributing Writer

One wet and rainy afternoon, I braved the damp trek to Mather Dining Hall to partake in Trinity’s annual Flag Project. The Flag Project, for those who don’t know, is as explained in the following statement: “The Flag Project, initiated by students in 2018, followed incidents of bias targeting students’ flags on campus. Working with the Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC), students created The Flag Project as a celebration of visible identity and pride; a counter to bias and bigotry; and, as a promotion of respect and welcome to all students, faculty and staff. Campus members are professionally photographed with flag(s) they feel best represent their identity and intersecting identities. The flags span the globe and include Native-American Nations and those that represent sexuality and gender identity.”

This year marked my second year participating in The Flag Project. I can still recall the excitement and anticipation I felt as I made the journey as a bright-eyed freshman. During check-in, I was asked for my choice of flag to pose with. It was here when I paused. You see, before Trinity, I didn’t give much thought to being a bi-racial adoptee straddling two cultures. Born in Xi’an, China and adopted as a child by “a nice white couple who adopted me” (inside joke between my parents and me), I have spent my childhood in a predominantly white neighborhood in Connecticut. Although my friends, family and I knew that I was Chinese, growing up, I was simply “Lily” to everyone, including myself.

Trinity was a new chapter of self-discovery. It was the first place where I was seen as a POC (Person of Color), and where I began to recognize that identity within myself. I felt like my identity was laid bare for all to see, including myself, and I was both urged and empowered to claim it as I have never done before. I took pride in my Chinese heritage. I joined AASA (Asian American Student Association), attended DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) events and when asked where I was from, I replaced my usual answer of “Connecticut” with, “I was born in China but have lived in Connecticut for most of my life.” This seemingly small change in wording held profound significance for me.

So, when confronted with the choice of which flag to hold, I found myself pausing to consider my response. Did I choose the flag of China, my birthplace, even though I felt as foreign to its culture as any tourist? On the other hand, everything dear to me—my friends, my family, my life—resided on American soil. In the end, I opted to pose with both flags, and I walked away feeling that my identity had been authentically represented.

This year I jumped at the chance to participate in The Flag Project once again. My friends and I took a collective photograph, proudly representing Finland, China, India, Bangladesh, the U.K. and the U.S. It was an impressive feat, considering the event’s popularity and the high demand for photographs and flags. I patiently waited in line for a good 20 minutes before my turn, and there were still many participants eager for photographs even after the event had concluded.

The bustling crowd prompted me to wonder why and what made this event so special. I had my own theories, but my curiosity led me to seek the perspectives of others as well.

I first reached out to the coordinators of The Flag Project. Mya White ’25, Flag Project Assistant said, “I think The Flag Project is such a hit because it gives students an opportunity to really embrace the multitude of their identities, whether that is through their national identity or their gender identity[ies]. The main focus of The Flag Project is to give people that space to showcase who they are unabashedly, and I think people really relish that chance.”

Laura R. Lockwood, M’95, director of the Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC), commented, “I believe it is the message that it sends to student and non-student participants. They are seen, heard, recognized. They belong here. The Flag Project is about celebrating and making visible one’s identity in a world where identity is often hatefully targeted.”

Next, I asked my fellow students for their thoughts.

Anupam Khargharia ’26 shared, “This was my first time doing The Flag Project. My girlfriend suggested we go, and we went with our friends. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I felt such a strong sense of pride for my country as we all held up our flags. Looking back, I’m really glad I went.”

“I decided to participate because the majority of my friends are international students, and so cultural exchange and discussions of national and ethnic identity have been greatly integrated into our relationships with one another,” said Gabbie Marcuccio ’26. “My own perspectives on these topics as they pertain to me have continued to shift and evolve over the years, as I consider what my own national and ethnic identities are. This is complicated by the fact that upon coming to Trinity, I have been frequently perceived as ethnically ambiguous for the first time in my life.”

Saisha Uttamchandai ’26, a participant and former WGRAC employee, remarked, “Witnessing entire friend groups wearing their traditional clothes for group photos was heartwarming. It was also so interesting to see students from rival nations coming together to share these moments.”

Community, identity, inclusion, self celebration. These are the pillars on which The Flag Project stands. In the midst of busy lives and academic pursuits, it provides a space to celebrate and embrace the rich tapestry of identities that make up the Trinity College community. The Flag Project teaches us that flags are more than a piece of fabric; they are our history, our identity and our spirit.

Everyone is invited to attend The Flag Project Reception on Nov. 8 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Rittenberg Lounge and Mather Art Space. Refreshments, music, a photo slideshow and flag photos will be displayed.

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