Two weeks ago, I attended a regional Residence Life conference and participated in a great session on Story Circles. This is a new facilitation tactic to me and the general overview is that there is a moderator who asks a question, each person takes 3-5 minutes to tell a story associated with the question and then it goes to the next person. People have the opportunity to pass, but opposed to traditional debrief models, participants are instructed not to challenge each other, ask questions or for clarification. Instead, the emphasis is active listening and processing others’ stories in the philosophy that it may impact your own.
The question our moderator (the fabulous Anjna Champaneri from UC Berkeley’s Res Life department) asked was “How would you describe your first year of college?” The story I told was how my first year was forever impacted because September 11th happened my second week of college. Many of my memories from freshmen year were tainted with fear, insecurity, and incidences from fellow students of intolerance and outright racism towards our Indian and Sri Lankan student population. It also included an increased sense of community, support and the feeling of growing up much too quickly.
I attended the session with a co-worker who I have worked with for nearly two years and who I consider to be a good friend. After we left the session, we both commented that we had never heard the stories that we just shared. We work together on a daily basis. We have a standing dinner club that meets once a week. How could we not know about our own first year of college and the impact it had on us as professionals?
Fast forward to this week’s #SAchat which revolved around how to address campus or national tragedies as student affairs professionals. I was stopped in my tracks a few times at the insight, compassion, grace, and resiliency shown by my colleagues throughout the country. There were also several professionals who are from the Boston area and have been in the thick of this topic for the past few days.
The take-away from both of these learning moments, from my experience as a terrified first-year student who watched the second tower collapse before my eyes while watching CNN in my “Media and Politics” class, to what it means to accompany students through the equally terrifying Boston Marathon Bombing, is the importance of storytelling. Of speaking your truth and being authentic in doing so. In the power that inherently comes from a person speaking, blogging, tweeting, texting, sitting in a circle with colleagues, following a backchannel, journaling, or sharing a cup of coffee and being truly heard.
Storytelling requires bravery. It requires courage. It requires first knowing your truth so you can tell it to others. Equally important is hearing the story. In saying “I believe you” and really meaning it. In not dismissing another’s story simply because it is not your own.
The world we live in will unfortunately continue to give us tragedies. Higher education does not exist in a vacuum so these tragedies will continue to impact our students, colleagues and ourselves in a variety of ways so tell your story. Tell it to your partner, or co-workers, or students, depending on your comfort level and circumstances. If you aren’t in a place to tell your story to others, tell it to yourself. Write, journal, meditate, reflect. Continue to listen to the stories of others and allow their narrative to shape your own.