New Storytelling Initiative Gives DU Community a Voice
Last fall, nearly three dozen students, faculty and staff members from across campus came together in a light-filled third floor room of the Burwell Center to tell each other stories. The first-ever Story Mosaic: Sharing Stories, Building Community event, led by the Community + Values (C+V) team in the Department of Human Resources and Inclusive Community, gave participants an opportunity to not only exchange stories but also practice reflection and build a community that is welcoming and supportive of all.
At the launch event, several participants told stories in response to one of two questions: “What was your path to DU?” or “What is a key experience you’ve had at DU?” The audience, sitting in a semi-circle, was invited to ask questions, which storytellers could answer if they felt comfortable. Everyone was asked to follow specific guidelines to ensure a safe and respectful space.
“It was wonderful to see people coming together, not in their roles on campus but as people—learning from each other and all of our diverse experiences,” says Kadijha Kuanda, a graduate fellow in C+V who, along with Jeff Banks, vice chancellor of human resources, spearheaded the initiative.
This is the goal of Story Mosaic—to demonstrate and celebrate the true diversity of the DU community. Modeled after a similar program Banks led at the University of Arkansas called the Human Library, he says storytelling offers a unique way to include potentially underrepresented voices and give voice to those who might not normally share their personal stories in the workplace or classroom.
“It also raises the level of empathy, by showing that you never know what someone’s going through or what they’ve gone through—and how we can support each other.”
Story Mosaic came together when Kuanda, who is a second-year grad student in international human rights, started meeting with various units across campus to learn about what they do.
"I saw a lot of similarities, a lot of the same goals of wanting to build community and share resources,” she says. Conversations led to how a storytelling event could help reach those goals. Campus partners were excited about the idea, and they began collaborating on the launch event.
The long-term vision is for stories to be shared through a variety of creative expressions, such as one-on-one and group conversations, spoken word, art and poetry.
C+V is also considering ways to broaden the impact, such as all-day events at multiple venues, involving alumni and community leaders and connecting people with mentors or resources related to their stories. One goal is to get more students involved—by scheduling events for times and locations that make it easy for them to attend and perhaps working with faculty to connect class assignments with Story Mosaic participation.
For now, C+V plans to host quarterly storytelling sessions and is video recording and archiving individuals’ stories on the Digication platform for the DU community to access.
The collection of stories, Banks says, is an opportunity for both personal and institutional growth. “It’s about individuals listening and learning and taking away something personally from the experience, but it’s also about finding key themes that we can act upon to benefit the entire community.”