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Human Library Project debuts workshop with College community

Robert Dinkins
Viewpoints Editor

The Wooster Human Library Project had its first workshop event in Longbrake Commons on April 5. The Human Library Project is a small-group conversational workshop where every individual becomes a book regarding their background, experience and thoughts. The original model was created to stop hatred and discrimination, promote understanding and embrace differences between individuals. The event was co-sponsored by A.P.E.X. and the Social and Civic Responsibility branch within the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).

Armel Lee ’19 planned the event. He had to find students willing to depict their personal stories in front of strangers and then entertain questions after their presentations.

Lee described the inspiration behind the project. “During my summer internship at a non-governmental organization, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, I first experienced the human library workshop. Although the workshop model that I had was more spontaneous and more focused on building up intimacy by sharing anything that people wanted to share, I felt that the workshop could be in various shapes, and would fit well to the color of Wooster’s community and our spirits as activists,” said Lee. “During and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I saw that many people, including professors, emphasized the power of voices of individuals. This provided me more certainty about potential influence of the human library workshop.”

Due to the versatility of the Human Library Workshop, Lee sees many ways that this could benefit the College’s atmosphere.

“In my personal belief, the Human Library Project has a huge potential and flexibility. We are now having representations of different issues and identities around us and allow them to share their personal stories with others. This form of the human library functions as a sort of cultural competency training for general participants and pedagogical workshop for human books. Depending on contexts, I also see that the Human Library Project can be part of orientation programs to create intimacy among individuals who are unfamiliar with each other, of other programs such as International Partnership Program and Community Building, or of experiential learning portion in classes,” said Lee.

The students and staff who participated as “books” during the workshop were also very excited at the prospect of being able to share their story. Jahqwahn Watson, an intern at CDI and A.P.E.X., shared his story called “A Blaq Coming-of-age.”

On the selection of his story, Watson stated, “My story was inspired by my magic. Entitled ‘a blaq coming-of-age,’ my story sought to weave disparate life experiences into a narrative that reflects the lessons and dangers that marked my development as a nonbinary Black youth. The result: a slowly emerging definition of Self that precludes ‘Blackness’ and ‘Queerness’ because it is an organic composite of the two.”

Molly Campbell ’18 shared her story “White Awake.”

“My story, ‘White Awake,’ focused on white privilege and social justice. I was inspired to share my story due to the recent racial issues that have been going on in the United States. I think it is important for white people to engage in the conversation about race in order to combat racism in our country. While these conversations may be uncomfortable, I think they are necessary in order to understand the complex issues surrounding race,” she said.

Both Watson and Campbell said the experience was exhilarating.

“The experience of hosting Human Library was thrilling. Crafting a coherent narrative was a challenge, but sharing that story with an interested audience was a fulfilling experience,” said Watson.

Campbell echoed Watson’s sentiments as well, saying, “It was a truly wonderful and fulfilling experience! After I finished telling my story, I felt connected to those who listened. They were able to ask me questions about my story, which prompted more conversation about white privilege and my interest in social justice. I would love to be a part of this project again, but sadly I am graduating.”

Of course, most authors always have intentions for their audience when they are experiencing their piece of heart. For Watson, this was no different.

“I hope people left my story with a greater understanding of Black queer identity and the ways Black queer and trans/nonbinary shape narratives for themselves,” said Watson.

Campbell shared her thoughts as well, saying, “I hope that those who listened to my story feel comfortable having conversations about race. I also hope that other people, especially white people, will become engaged in social justice issues. Standing up for what you believe in really makes a difference! My goal was to inspire others to participate in social justice movements.”

Lee hopes that there can be more Human Library Workshops in the future.

“Currently, we are committed to host another workshop in mid-September with a specific theme of internationalization. Since this April event was the first event, we had a lot of steps to process through and things to prepare,” said Lee. “However, as the project gets settled, we look forward to host more frequently in the future. Our ultimate goal is to implement the Human Library Project in the Wooster community. We wish there are more students, faculty, staffs and even community members to be included, share their stories and make Wooster community more embracing and supportive.”

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