Topics: new voices class hosts Narrative 4 event

Pictured above is Christine Cusick, associate professor of English/composition and facilitator of Narrative 4 is
seen putting participants of the Connected Voices event Nov. 18 into groups. Photo by S.Dumnich/Setonian

“I think this was really impactful because we got to take the experiences and things we are learning about in the classroom and expand them outside those four walls to kind of show the reality of how they impact people’s lives,” said Sam Gray, a senior English literature major with a minor in gender studies. “I think that Narrative 4 in general really helps people break down their boundaries of themselves to help us create a community.”

Nov. 18, Seton Hill University’s Topics: New Voices class taught by Emily Wierszewki hosted the Connected Voices: Narrative 4 event in Cecilian Hall. 

“Narrative 4 can be anything from a small group of friends or an entire school can participate so I think what we were planning, an intimate engagement, 50 people is a really good amount,” Gray said. 

Narrative 4 is “a global nonprofit that harnesses the power of the story exchange to equip and embolden young adults to improve their lives, communities and the world.” 

Participants of the event included SHU students, faculty, community members and immigrants, all of whom were assigned to groups based on the color dot placed on their name tag. 

“It helps you understand different situations you’re not going through yourself and telling it through someone else’s point of view helps to better connect with them. I think Seton Hill students and faculty, everyone really, can benefit from this to understand and get empathy from others,” said Lauren Kosslow, a junior biology major with an English minor. 

The event is intended for participants to share stories and learn about others to help build a better community. The stories are shared with a partner and then shared with a larger group through their partner’s point of view. 

The event kicked off with a video presentation to give those in attendance a small glimpse of what exactly the story exchange is. 

“We have done larger Narrative 4 related events. So, it used to be the story event that introduced Narrative 4 to the first-year class, but we didn’t actually do an exchange in that event, that was just telling [students] about the organization. As a story exchange, this was one of the larger events,” said Christine Cusick, associate professor of English/composition and facilitator of the Narrative 4 event. 

Cusick then introduced each of the four facilitators that were to lead their groups with the rest of the process for the night. 

“As a trained facilitator, our task is to help walk people through the process, to create tones of respect and feel welcome and manage the circle to make sure everybody is feeling safe and comfortable and understanding the process we are going through,” Cusick said. 

Sam Gray, senior English major with a minor in gender studies is painting a rock that has a thoughtful message
written on it. Photo by S.Dumnich/Setonian.

The four trained facilitators included Cusick, Dana Elmendorf (program director of the graduate art therapy program), Debra Faszer-McMahon (dean of humanities and associate professor of Spanish) and Kim Pennesi (director of the writing center). 

“In addition to being the liaison for Seton Hill I am a master practitioner for Narrative 4, which means I train people around the country to be facilitators. What that means is that I get to witness the story exchange in a lot of different places which is really cool,” Cusick said. “Everywhere I see it, it’s not always the same. It is different based on where we are and the people, I’ve seen it change how people can relate to each other.”

During the story exchange, attendees that did not want to participate or if participants brought children, the event was set up to accommodate for everyone. 

“The event is like therapy in some way, I feel how the other person feels. I am very thankful and I really like it because it helps us communicate our problems,” said Isabel Valenzuela, an adjunct professor of Spanish.

As the groups separated and went into different rooms located near the parlors on campus, the students of Topics: New Voices had created an art station beforehand. 

“My first story exchange was in this class, it was about a month ago. I have never done one before. I think it does help you to understand others, at least a little bit and understand that everyone goes through something, you might not realize it but everyone goes through something different in their lives,” Kosslow said. 

The station was set up to paint rocks. Participants or those not participating could paint a rock that had a message written on it for good intent. The rocks were then to be passed onto someone or put somewhere for someone to find. 

“I’m sure everybody learns something from somebody they initially saw and made a guess or prejudice about and it ended up being false or more complex when you meet someone new. I definitely think that getting to plan this event for the students was very eye-opening to see a glimpse into what our faculty and staff do for us here on the campus and really help us appreciate the fact all the work people put in for us to get our education,” Gray said. 

The groups returned back to Cecilian Hall to engage in friendly conversation over an array of food and drink. The Topics: New Voices class also created informational boards for people to read.

“We get feedback from students on written notes and often we get that it doesn’t make them feel alone,” Cusick said. 

Published by Caitlin Srager

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