Stories are a medium for human connection, fostering empathy through sharing experiences with others. On Friday, Jan. 25, Vassar students, faculty and community members gathered in the Villard Room to share and hear stories in search of such connections. Seeking to highlight underrepresented voices through sharing personal narratives, Vassar Voices—an event sponsored by Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI)—created a platform for inclusive conversation among storytellers and roundtable participants.
“The stories being told are not about these major life-changing events, but about the everyday, and the little things that people can relate to,” Head Coordinator of Vassar Voices Antonella DeCicci ’20 said. “The idea is to create a space where we can really lean into those little moments that are normally not valued in academic spaces like this.”
The Vassar Voices committee, comprised of DeCicci, Ananya Suresh ’21, Shreya Suresh ’21, Bryan Fotino ’20 and Irfan Badruddin ’20, spent months organizing and planning for the storytelling initiative. “[Vassar Voices] actually started as a House Team thing—it was an idea for an event that was thrown out during a House Team meeting that never came to fruition, and when the World Café happened last May, I brought it here,” DeCicci said.
Matthew Au ’19, one of many storytellers at the event, discussed his Dragon Boat racing experiences. As a U.S. National team member for the niche sport, Au discussed his trip to Georgia this past year to compete in the Dragon Boat World Championships. Au’s narrative focused on his passion for Dragon Boat racing and how, despite its relative obscurity in the United States, the sport has been part of his identity in expressing his unique interests and Chinese culture.
“I like sharing my story, and I think it’s a unique experience that some people can draw inspiration from,” Au said. “I think I chose this story because it was important to me as a person [and] it really helped shape the person I am today.”
To encourage even greater opportunity for integration and connection amongst participants, each narrative was randomized so attendees were going in blind. Sophia Kapur ’22, who attended Au’s roundtable, spoke of this randomization. According to Kapur, “We didn’t know what story we were going to hear. I thought it was representative of life—you never know who you’re going to meet or whose path you’ll cross with.”
Sharing a personal story of gender presentation and experiences of microaggressions at Vassar and elsewhere, Frankie Knuckles ‘21 [Full disclosure: Knuckles is Features Editor for the Miscellany News] said, “I chose this story because I thought it would showcase a phenomenon that most people don’t know much about, and so would be a learning experience. I hoped to give my audience a window into my life experience, which I think is the function of personal storytelling.”
Speakers and attendees contemplated the platform’s effectiveness. Kapur indicated that the willingness to listen to and share personal narratives created a constructive, comfortable environment for discussion. “I would definitely come again,” Kapur said. “Everyone came in with the same mindset and [understood] how the intention was positive and the intention was to learn from each other.”
Au noted that the roundtable format allowed listeners to experience and comment on unfamiliar situations: “I think [Vassar Voices] was effective,” he said. “This is a very discussion-based roundtable situation.” Knuckles expressed similar satisfaction, saying, “Based on the Q&A following my talk, people really plugged into what I said, and it got their wheels turning.”
Vassar College prides itself and its community on being a congenial and accepting campus. Vassar Voices acted as a bridge to close gaps between and draw inspiration from the people that fill it. Kapur commented on how the event doubled as a learning atmosphere of greater acceptance and opportunity: “Take the time to get to know new people, and make sure you’re surrounding yourself not only with people who have things in common with you— that’s how you can grow and learn from each other.”