Tent Theory

When I think of the classical Freudian theory of large groups, I visualize people arranged around a gigantic maypole, which represents the group leader. Individuals in the large group dance around the pole/leader, identifying with each other and idealizing the leader. I have expanded this metaphor by imagining a canvas extending from the pole out over the people, forming a huge tent. This canvas represents the large-group identity… Imagine thousands or millions of persons living under a huge tent. They may get together in subgroups. They may belong to certain clans or professional organizations and they may be poor or rich or women or men. But all of them are under one huge tent. The pole of the tent is the political leadership… Everyone under the tent’s canvas wears his or her individual garment (personal identity), but everyone under the tent also shares the tent canvas as a second garment.

-Vamik Volkan, “Large Group Psychology in its Own Right”


Introduction by Sydney Allard

The Tent Model, explained above, is a way of thinking about the ways in which each part of our identity affects the ways in which we view the world. We are under certain tents —and tents beneath tents, for example, I am an American but also a New Yorker— that impact the way we are taught to view ourselves and others. For the purpose of this project, we have expanded this chapter to include any entries that speak to the ways in which a particular facet of a participant’s identity has made them feel good or bad, connected or isolated.


Knowledge or Change

In the following piece, Harriet Acheampong explores the politics of band-aids, whose skin color they match and whose they don’t. She concludes by thinking about racism generally and the ways in which it has impacted her life beyond the CVS first-aid aisle.

Hey, My Name is Shaquan and I Am Gay

In the following short story, Trevor Laing welcomes us into the mind of Shaquan who is gay. He speaks about the stereotypes that are forced onto him because of his sexual orientation and his family’s unwillingness to accept him as he is.

Not the Colors of the Rainbow

Oulimata explores the way that the color of her skin affects her interactions with white people and the education that she has received.

A Short Monologue

In the following monologue, Harriet Acheampong speaks about a time when she felt acutely aware of the ways in which she was different from those around her.

Little Did You Know

In this poem, Nia Lovell explores her straight audience’s inability to understand and empathize with her feelings because of the tents that separate them.

Being Biracial

In her essay, Brittney Chong discusses the complex effects that her mixed racial background have on her personal identity and the way that she is perceived by others.

Jewish Peoplehood

Isaiah Milbauer discusses Jewish Peoplehood through the “chuppah model” and attempts to find a common denominator among all Jews around the world.


In this true short story, Maya Bernstein speaks about her attempts to connect to and interact with people who live under different tents than she does by finding common ground between them.